In episode 432, Adam Sobel teaches us how to monetize and market online cooking classes as well as the technical details of running such classes.
We cover information about selling live classes, information about platforms to share your content, how to build subscriptions, record, and edit classes, what’s up with marketing, and the breakdown of equipment.
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Bio Adam Sobel is the chef and owner of The Cinnamon Snail, a vegan food truck, restaurant, and catering company serving New York and New Jersey.
Adam has cooked at the James Beard House, represented the USA at the World Street Food Congress in the Philippines, and has appeared on the food network, Cooking Channel, PBS, and several networks. He is the author of the popular cookbook Street Vegan.
The Cinnamon Snail was launched in 2010 as the country’s first organic vegan food truck and rose to become one of the country’s most sought-after food trucks.
- Offering live cooking classes allows you to stay present in your day-to-day life and keep hands-on with cooking.
- Live classes allow you to engage with your audience.
- You can monetize your cooking classes by selling tickets to the class.
- You can record your classes and sell/bundle them.
- You can sell a membership to cooking classes.
- Getting a switcher allows you to have multiple shots in a live class.
- Softbox and LED panels with grid are lighting options
- Set up a chat to be used during ZOOM for audience questioners to avoid the recording getting messy
- The resolution you record in from Zoom is important to check because you’ll market those recordings.
- Eventbrite offers a marketing option an an alternative to FB. There are other options to use to market your classes.
See the set up of Adam’s online classes over at Instagram!
Click for full script.
EBT432 – Adam Sobel
Intro: Food bloggers, hi, how are you today? Thank you so much for tuning in to the Eat Blog Talk podcast. This is the place for food bloggers to get information and inspiration to accelerate your blog’s growth and ultimately help you to achieve your freedom, whether that’s financial, personal, or professional.
I’m Megan Porta and I’ve been a food blogger for over 12 years. I understand how isolating food blogging can be at times. I’m on a mission to motivate, inspire, and most importantly, let each and every food blogger, including you, know that you are heard and supported. Every once in a while, I have someone on the show who is just above and beyond interesting and fun and full of information and just a little bit extra, surprising in the best way. This was the case with The episode you’re about to listen to. Adam Sobel from Cinnamon Snail joined me. He operated a very successful vegan food truck for many years. He worked in many restaurants and he has just such an extensive background with food and has recently dug into his blog and also online cooking classes. The bulk of our conversation talks about those online cooking classes and ways that he monetizes them. He talks through the technical details that you’ll need to know if you want to do something similar, and also really cool ideas about how to market these classes. I literally could have talked to Adam for hours. He was that entertaining, refreshing, and just an awesome person. I don’t even have to say, I hope you love this episode because I know you’re going to love it. It is episode number 432 sponsored by RankIQ.
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Megan Porta: Adam Sobel is the chef and owner of The Cinnamon Snail, a vegan food truck, restaurant and catering company serving New York and New Jersey. Adam has cooked at the James Beard House, represented the USA at the World Street Food Congress in the Philippines, and teaches cooking at the Institute for Culinary Education, De Gustibus Cooking School, and independently online. Adam has appeared on the Food Network, Cooking Channel, PBS, and several networks and is the author of the popular cookbook Street Vegan. The Cinnamon Snail was launched in 2010 as the country’s first organic vegan food truck and rose to become one of the country’s most sought after food trucks. The Cinnamon Snail was nominated five years in a row for the Vendee Award, which has been called the Oscars of street food, and has won the Vendee Cup, People’s Choice, Maker’s Mark Challenge, and Vendee Hero Award for their outreach efforts serving free meals for months after Hurricane Sandy.
In 2014, the Cinnamon Snail was the number one highest rated place of any kind to eat in New York City and the number four highest place of any kind to eat in the entire USA on Yelp.com. For almost its entire run, the Cinnamon Snail dominated BuzzFeed’s top 10 list of best food trucks in the USA. Adam, how are you? I’m so excited to have a chat with you today. Thanks for being here.
Adam Sobel: Oh, I am super Dudley Duper, and I hope you’re doing fantastic as well, dear Megan.
Megan Porta: Aw, you’re so sweet. Okay, so before we get into this amazing topic of yours, we all want to know if you have a fun fact to share with us.
Adam Sobel: Yeah, so you know, my fun fact is not that I live with a wallaby, because I do live with a wallaby, and that’s fun. And it’s not that I’m actually a Hare Krishna, because that’s also a truthful fact about me. It’s not even that I’ve probably eaten LSD in excess of 400 times in my life. The real fun fact is that I am sincerely obsessed with it. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the guy who ate an airplane, but there’s this guy, Michael Lotito, who ate an actual airplane. It’s like a real fixation of mine. Everybody should probably sooner or later eat an airplane. That’s my feeling. I was just in the South of France doing some culinary consulting for somebody a week ago. I was only two hours away from where the guy who ate the airplane is buried and I was really bummed I didn’t get to go shell over there.
Megan Porta: Okay. So he must’ve done it little by little or something like that?
Adam Sobel: He had, as you can imagine, he has a very strange digestive system. Supposedly he could not eat a banana and stuff like that. You could check out his Wikipedia. It’s crazy. Like he got a Guinness book award, like this plaque and he ate the plaque and everything.
Megan Porta: Oh my gosh.
Adam Sobel: But he did not die from airplane eating side effects. He died from some other thing.
Megan Porta: What is this guy’s name? I’m now intrigued.
Adam Sobel: I don’t know if it’s pronounced Michael Lotito, but it’s like M I C H A E L Lotito. But yeah his, I think that should be like the deciding factor in the future for how somebody becomes president of the United States.
Megan Porta: Have you eaten an airplane?
Adam Sobel: As long as you have a bigger plane than the other person you’re in. It should be like that.
Megan Porta: Oh my gosh. That’s crazy. So I remember reading something about A guy who ate a bicycle when I was a kid.
Adam Sobel: This guy ate numerous bicycles, so it could be the same guy.
Megan Porta: Oh, maybe it’s him.
Adam Sobel: He ate a lot of wild stuff.
Megan Porta: Okay. Okay. Because I remember being like, wait a second. What? How did this happen? But an airplane, that’s even more mind blowing. So I have to look into this.
Adam Sobel: It’s for real. In an interview I read, he said that the worst part of eating the airplane was eating the seats. Be warned. Anyhow, let’s get into this non-airplane related conversation today.
Megan Porta: How am I going to get my brain off of this now? How are we going to talk about food trucks and videos, Adam?
Adam Sobel: I know, it’s mundane.
Megan Porta: I do love how you prefaced your fun fact with fun facts. That was amazing.
Adam Sobel: Yeah. It’s like the inception of fun facts. Fun facts. Fun facts.
Megan Porta: Yes. Thank you for sharing all of those fun facts. Now I have reading material after the interview because I have to go learn about this Michael Lolito guy a little bit more.
Adam Sobel: Yeah. It’s on.
Megan Porta: All right. I’ll follow up with you. Let me tell you about my favorite parts. Okay. So you have an amazing story. I love just your story about starting a food truck and not just that, but it’s wildly successful and it’s a vegan food truck, which I love. Then you also have gotten into online cooking classes, which is something that’s really relevant for food bloggers. I think we’re all just curious about the food truck. I know I am. Would you mind telling us about that? How did you get started? I want to hear the whole story.
Adam Sobel: I’ve been working in vegan restaurants for like about a dozen years. And I had been working at this one that changed hands and then the new owners ran it into the ground really quickly. The day that the restaurant closed I’d been working off the books in this restaurant for ages, as is common in restaurants, or at least it was at the time. The day the restaurant closed, it was the same week I was closing on a house I was buying and I was like, man, I really gonna need some kind of income. So I started doing a lot of private cheffing and a little bit of catering and stuff. My wife and I had a little stand we ran at our local farmer’s market. I’d always wanted to do a food truck, especially like a vegan food truck. At the time, which was when that restaurant closed, it was like 2008 or so. It was a very different landscape about vegan food. I always felt man, the only people coming in to eat at vegan restaurants are already vegan. I just really wanted to bring exceptional, really extremely delicious vegan food out onto the street where people who didn’t give a crap about vegan food and just saw l this really cool looking food truck and a long line down the block and a display case full of really nice looking pastries, would just check it out because it looked fun. So after a couple of years we saved up enough money to buy the absolutely most beat up piece of crap food truck on all of Craigslist. It was in such ramshackle condition. When I took it for a test drive the entire exhaust system fell off and the guys were like, we’ll take off 400 for that. Don’t worry. So I was psyched, so I gutted the food truck and redid it and a friend of mine helped me design a really outlandish crazy looking wrap for the outside. I didn’t really have a long term goal with it. I just really wanted to help change people’s perception of how vegan food is like at the time so much of it was either like super health food store macrobiotic steamed vegetables and brown rice fair or it was on the flip side like really garbagey, fake meat straight out of a freezer into a deep fryer type of food. So I really wanted to bring more elevated food that even non-vegetarians could really get into onto the street. It really blew up. I think the timing of it was really great. I launched it in 2010. After a couple years, we got a permit, which is a whole other crazy nightmarish story about the black market, about how you get a permit for New York City. It just became way more popular than my wildest dreams, which was great. But it was also a huge learning curve for me because I’d worked in tons of restaurants, but I never worked in a restaurant that was ever as busy as our food truck became. Every day, a full city blocks a long line to get lunch from us and like just making food as fast as you possibly could, but still keeping it very nicely prepared. It just presented a lot of learning challenges about how to prep stuff in enormous batches and how to portion things and freeze certain things that could be dealt with that way. Yeah. Then in 2016, I opened up a restaurant with the same concept. Then another restaurant a couple of years later went down by Wall Street in New York City and published a cookbook and all these different doors opened. It was really rad. I was teaching at a couple of different culinary schools. Then when the pandemic hit the timing was really graceful for me because at the time our main restaurant location, the building it was in, which is just above Penn Station in front of Madison square garden in New York City was going to be closing that month anyway, for a half a billion dollar renovation they were doing on the building. I knew with the city going on lockdown, we just could not survive month after month. We had 60 full time employees and an enormous production kitchen in Brooklyn and just all these just crazy overhead. It really let me put the brakes on everything. I had wanted to start something more locally to where I lived. I’ve got kids and dogs and I was spending so much of my time out of the house. So I closed everything down when the pandemic hit, which was really nice. I was able to spend the last couple years of my elderly dog’s life snuggling with her a lot more. Gave me a lot more time to do actual cooking stuff. Because when you have many locations and a ton of staff, I just found myself doing so many things not directly related to cooking people food, doing way more like sitting in meetings and dealing with managerial stuff. So it really gave me the opportunity to step back and reassess what I wanted to be putting my time on. So during the pandemic, I started teaching these online cooking classes. I felt like it was such a win-win situation. Because teaching in culinary schools, the price was high for students to take those classes. But it was also not really that lucrative for me to do. This way, I could make it so much more affordable to people, but also make a real living out of it. That’s how I started making a living online more so than off of line. That’s actually really what made me gravitate eventually towards starting a blog on my 10 or 12 year old website that had tons of good backlinks and stuff. I just really wanted to start bringing traffic to my website where people could sign up for my classes or buy recordings of previous classes or sign up for my membership. So I guess I’ve come into blogging from the cooking class world whereas probably a lot of your listeners are the other way around. They’ve been blogging and are looking for some other way to monetize. Yeah, it’s maybe a different perspective on stuff that maybe will be helpful for folks.
Megan Porta: Yeah, definitely a bit of an unusual journey, but in the coolest way. Your story is so amazing. I have a million questions I could ask you about your food truck, but maybe that will be another conversation. Oh, I do want to ask you one thing. What was your top dish at your food truck?
Adam Sobel: In addition to hot food, both breakfast, lunch and dinnery type menus that I created, the other thing that was unique about what I created was we had a really serious pastry program for the food truck and restaurants, which included a massive variety of doughnuts. Because at the time there was almost no one making vegan doughnuts. I mean there are people making baked vegan doughnuts, but let’s be honest, they’re like cupcakes and disguised as doughnuts. I just really wanted to make doughnuts that would be better than anybody’s not vegan doughnut and would be the gateway drug to people who might not be open minded to eating a tofu sandwich, to get them into eating more vegan food.
So in addition to really dope breakfast and lunch stuff, we had a lot of donuts that won awards and were featured in the New York Times and stuff like that. We did this vanilla bourbon creme brulee donut that had a custard made with Reduced Makers Mark bourbon in it that we won some awards for and was always really popular. Then on the savory food side of things we had this beast mode burger deluxe, I called it which was this bourbon barbecue grilled ancho chili seitan burger that had Jalapeno mac and cheese, coconut bacon, arugula, and chipotle mayo on a grilled pretzel bun. We sold like a crazy number of those. It was bonkers.
Megan Porta: Oh my gosh, I’m starving. That all sounds so good. Yeah, amazing. Then I also, I wanted to comment on your perspective. I love your perspective and how you just were like, instead of being blown away by the pandemic and everything that came after that, you were like, okay, this is something I’m going to embrace. Now I have time with my dog. You just seem to have such a great outlook, which I don’t often hear from people. Usually it’s the opposite.
Adam Sobel: I think to be honest, like to be fair I’m really privileged to have been able to have a nice graceful experience with the pandemic. Like I wasn’t a single mom working three minimum wage jobs when that hit. I know there are people who really suffered through the pandemic, but I’m really grateful to be able to say it was a very peaceful time in my life. I got to be around my kids more and be like actually cooking and learning a lot more. I loved it. So don’t tell anybody I said so, but I gave the pandemic five stars on yelp.com. Three cheers for COVID 19.
Megan Porta: That’s good to hear. It’s refreshing to hear stories like that. I think it’s amazing. Okay. So you’re now into cooking classes. You’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, correct? Okay. So we want to hear more about this. I guess the first question would be how do you monetize and then how do you monetize?
Adam Sobel: Yeah. So there’s three main ways I monetize my cooking classes now. In the beginning, it was just very straightforward, which is that I sold tickets for my cooking classes through Eventbrite, which makes it really easy. Whether you’re doing it through zoom or some other streaming thing it’s pretty easy to just sell tickets for a class through that platform. It’s nice because you can also set it up so whatever small fees they charge come out of the customer side of things. Some people are really concerned about what it’s going to cost them to sell a cooking class. But you know that being said these are live cooking classes at least initially. I do them through Zoom but i like Over time, got it a little bit finessed up and a little sexier than just a regular zoom class. Let me tell you about the monetization for some, then we’ll get into the technical process.
So anyway, I sell these classes through events, right? Basically in advance of the class, like a week ahead of time, I’ll send out all the recipes which I’ll include affiliate links in my recipes for our ingredients that might be hard to find and that way people who want to cook along can get stuff in advance. I give instructions on like how to mise en place stuff so it’s like realistic for them to keep up with the class because I tend to pack a lot of stuff into my classes I really try to make them very valuable like both in terms of people accomplishing a lot but also in terms of people learning a lot about ingredients or how to modify stuff. So then after the class I also send everybody who registers a recording which I think is really helpful because there’s so many people who sign up for an online class and then realize they can’t make it when the class is live. Most of those people are happy to just get the recording anyway. So I include that for the people who register for the live class. Then afterwards I set up a system on my website where people can buy basically the class recordings and all the accompanying recipes for them.
Which, there’s a bunch of different ways to do that. Somebody turned me on, I don’t know if you’re familiar with SamCart, but it’s like ClickFunnels I think is their closest competitor. But it’s a really easy way to build sales landing pages. In addition, the landing pages have really easy upsells on your sales page, where somebody can click one button and it’s Oh, you could add this other class to it or add 31 healthy lunch ideas ebook or whatever to it. There’s lots of ways for you to create upsells and little funnels within it. If they buy it, then they might go to another page where it’s like, Oh since you bought this here’s a discount on my subscription, if you want that or whatever. So it creates a secondary market where after the live class has happened, there’s eternally a place on my website where people can end up purchasing the pizza class I taught last year or the seitan making class I taught or whatever. So that’s like the secondary channel of monetization of those same classes. It’s not really much extra work to set that up. I’ll create a small Sort of teaser video with some edited moments of the class, and it’s pretty easy to put together. The third kind of way I monetize it is by creating a subscription for my classes. I do that at a lower price point than just people buying the one off classes. I also throw in some kind of bonuses, where they get a bunch of extra recorded classes and some other kind of bonus content or whatever. That I handle almost entirely just through ConvertKit, where basically what’s being sold is that they get tagged onto a list that automatically gets every month’s classes sent out to it and stuff. So it’s not a whole lot of extra lifting on my behalf, but it makes the income from these classes a little bit more steady, right? Because generally, in the summertime, the classes aren’t as well attended. Since I’m in this vegan niche, Veganuary is like a very busy month for me. This way, like having some subscribers, there’s always a nice baseline that I can live off of, and it makes it a little less unpredictable.
Megan Porta: So the last two that you mentioned, the recordings and then the subscription really are hands off and passive once you’ve got them set up, right?
Adam Sobel: I like to think there’s anything passive about making a living online, but I’m pretty sure that’s not real. I think everything requires a little bit of work and a little bit of maintenance.
Megan Porta: Mostly passive, 90% passive.
Adam Sobel: Even those sales pages, I think to get them to convert really well, you want to be continuously running some type of testing on them, right? For a while I was using Google optimize, which is now, I think being sunset and there’s other things out there to do it, but you can create what they call redirect tests where if somebody clicks on a thumbnail on your website to bring you to whatever cooking class, you could have two different URLs with two slightly different landing pages for it to test like, Oh, does the headline like this convert better? Or does it convert better like this? Does this color buy now button work better than this color? Because you can make all these decisions based on your whim or what you like, but it’s not really based on what works. So even once the thing is up, I always have a little bit of background testing and improvement I’m trying to do so that it works better.
Megan Porta: Yeah. I’m looking at your database right now, and these all look so interesting. Plant based pizzas and cake doughnuts and seitan and falafel. Oh my gosh, it just goes on and on. You have put so many of these together.
Adam Sobel: Yeah, because every month I always have at least one fully paid class that people buy tickets for and then most months, as a top of funnel thing, I’ll either have a free or donation based class where people could take the class for as little as a dollar and that keeps bringing new people into my world. Usually that free or donation based class will be a shorter subject. I’m doing one tomorrow for instance on empanada making because I had this line of vegan empanadas that I did in collaboration with a friend of mine who has an empanada factory. I wrote all these recipes and he deals with shipping them out. But to promote that product line is being relaunched, I’m doing this class to just show people a few different kinds of empanadas to make at home. People can pay whatever they want to take it. So there’s some people who just pay a dollar, and some people probably average out to be around 10 bucks a person. Those ones that are donation based, so many more people sign up for them then if it’s a 50 class or something. Since it’s short, it’s not as taxing of a thing to deal with. Because there’s a lot of behind the scenes set up to do these classes. I just do them out of my own tiny home kitchen. So setting up all the camera stuff takes a while and mise en place all the measured out ingredients, which my wife helps me with in exchange for me paying her really fancy, yummy chocolates. That takes a bunch of time. So having these shorter ones is a little bit more doable in the mix, and it also just brings more people into my world and onto my mailing list and stuff like that.
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Megan Porta: So talk about some more of those technical details, your setups and anything else you want.
Adam Sobel: Yeah. So you can, obviously you can do it really simple. I feel like people are so used to getting high quality food content now. There’s so many people on YouTube with full on studios filming stuff really nicely that I feel like the bar is set high. And food, you want it to look beautiful. You want people to be able to really see the textures of the food and have it properly lit and stuff. In the beginning, I was doing it pretty simple. I think I had two cameras and in the beginning I was also using my cell phone as a camera. You can get a dongle for an iPhone that lets you output HDMI into a switcher. So for me, I have this switcher. It’s called the ATEM Mini that lets you select different Cameras. So as I’m teaching next to my cutting board, I’ll have this switcher and I can press button one is the camera that shows my face and button two is the camera that’s a top down shot of my cutting board. Number three is what’s on the stove top. Number four, depending on the class, I might have it out near a pizza oven, or I might have it giving a nice side glamor shot just for finished dishes and stuff, right?
So yeah, in the beginning you can totally set it up on the cheap. If you have an iPhone, you can get one of these lightning to HDMI dongles to go into a switcher. You can even do it without a switcher and people do that in zoom. But I really like to be in full control of what people see when, at what time. The main thing is having cameras that can send out a clean HDMI output. Some older DSLRs won’t do that and if you hook it up to HDMI. It’s really just designed for people to use for monitoring. So it’ll show you all the camera data on it and all the what’s in focus and what’s your ISO and all this stuff. So you need to be able to send what’s called the clean HDMI output, which is like just what the camera is capturing. So for an iPhone, there’s a couple apps that do that. There’s one called Filmic Pro that I’ve used before. But now I don’t really use an iPhone for it at all. I have four Sony cameras that I use. My front facing one because I’ve got a kind of small kitchen is very like the Wide angle lens I have on that. I think it’s maybe 16 millimeters. So then they all go into this switcher. For me, I move around in my kitchen a lot. So for audio, I use a lavalier mic road that makes this set called the road wireless go that has a transmitter you can keep in your pocket so if you’re you know going over there to drain something in the sink people can still hear you. I also live with a ton of animals so having a mic that’s on me picks up a little bit less of that ambient sound. The one other physical piece of equipment that I use has to do with controlling OBS. So OBS is like something that I started using to make these classes look a lot slicker. I think it stands for open broadcast system. It’s a streaming software that I think a lot of people who make other people watch them play video games or whatever use this. It’s like a free open source software. It’s extremely powerful and you can get all kinds of plugins for it, but I use it like that. I can have an intro screen, and then when I’m ready to start, I’ll press one button, and it’ll fade into the camera shot of me. I can press another button and have it programmed to bring up the ingredients for a given recipe on the screen as I’m talking. You can do all kinds of really kooky, wild stuff with it.
The one other piece of physical equipment I have is a controller for that, where you can pre program buttons to do different stuff like that, and bring up ingredients.
Megan Porta: Is that pretty easy to learn? Pretty intuitive to learn?
Adam Sobel: I have no background in this stuff. I’m a sandwich chef or whatever the heck I am for a living, right? That being said, like I had to watch a ton of YouTube tutorials that are mostly taught by 13 year old boys who dream of other people watching them play video games all day. So it was a bunch of learning. I don’t find it to be that unintuitive, but it’s not a simple plug and play process.
I think there are some systems like that now. I think I heard logitech makes something that’s a few cameras that all go into 1 thing. It’s pretty much designed for you to plug it in and be able to use it. But, all these things, like using OBS to bring up overlays and have your logo in the corner and make it look less like Zoom, it takes some learning.
Megan Porta: It’s a learning curve.
Adam Sobel: Your listeners all learned how to use the block editor and WordPress so they can learn everything. I found that to be way crazier to learn personally.
Megan Porta: That’s what I always say when food bloggers are like, I don’t know, what’s the learning curve. I’m like, wait a second. You’re a food blogger. You’ve learned so much on your own. You can do it.
Adam Sobel: It’s so crazy. It’s super nuts.
Megan Porta: Yeah, it is. So what about lighting? You touched on that, that you do use lighting. What exactly do you use?
Adam Sobel: Like you do for photographing your food photos for your blog. For me, my setup’s a little wacky because I’m using a few different camera angles in one space, right? You want to have a lighting situation where each individual shot looks good without casting extra light on a different shot or something. So I had to really play around with lighting to get it where I wanted it for these classes. What I have is one humongous softbox that’s kind of facing down at a three quarters angle, that pretty well lights my portrait shot, but also puts a lot of nice soft light onto my cutting board area.
Then I have a fill light that has a grid on it to control the spill of the light. That’s mostly for my cutting board because I keep finding, I get myself looking right and the food on my cutting board is not lit brightly enough. Anything dark, it just looks like black. If you had some sriracha in a cup, you would have no clue what it was, so yeah, I really do it with three lights. Two bigger soft boxes and one kind of LED panel light with a grid on it. But yeah it’s just lighting food shots artificially. You have to play around with it, but also find the balance where all of your different camera angles make sense together.
Megan Porta: Yeah. Just a little experimentation is necessary, right?
Adam Sobel: Yeah. Yeah. I also run all of the video feeds in through a lot, like what they call a lookup table, which is almost like a preset, you can apply to video footage to do color correction to get everything looking just right. That helps to make all the different camera shots feel congruent in some way. So yeah, that’s something I do in LBS.
Megan Porta: Okay, cool. In my mind I have a picture of your entire setup and I’m sure it’s exactly what it looks like.
Adam Sobel: I’ll have to send you a picture of it. It’s fun.
Megan Porta: Yeah, that would be amazing.
Adam Sobel: I have a tiny ass little home kitchen, but it works.
Megan Porta: You make it work, which is the point. Yes. Then you said that you do your live classes on zoom. Do you want to talk about that? Is there anything special you do there?
Adam Sobel: Sure. So it’s a little tricky because I always like to monitor the chat in my zoom while I’m teaching. Because that’s how I request my students ask their questions throughout the class so that it doesn’t disturb anybody else or ends up in the recording. Their screen popping up, you know how zoom works, whoever’s the speaker dominates the screen. So I instead have everybody keep muted the whole time, but ask questions in the chat. So while I’m cooking and while I’m also operating these cameras through a controller, I’m also keeping an eye on the chat and trying to answer those questions live. It’s really fun, but the tricky part is looking into a camera and answering them. Because it’s really easy to stare down at a laptop screen and it just looks really awkward as a person.
I know ways around it. I could get a teleprompter type of thing and mirror my laptop screen onto the teleprompter so I’m looking into the camera, even if I’m reading comments, but it’s just like I’ve already thrown so much money at this cooking class setup. I also just have a limited amount of space and adding a teleprompter would eat into that a bit.
Megan Porta: Wow. Okay. Yeah, I didn’t even think about that piece of it, like having to look somewhere and pretend.
Adam Sobel: It’s wacky. Yeah, there’s another couple considerations if you’re using zoom for a cooking class that I want to mention just because they might be helpful to people. One is that the default resolution for zoom is awful. It’s 360 years. I forget what it is. It’s a 16th of HD resolution. It’s really small. If you get their business plan, you have to put in a call and request it, but they can give you full HD, like 1080p resolution, which looks a lot better. It really only makes sense if you’re having regular classes that have at least a hundred students in it though. Otherwise it’s pretty costly. But you can, without doing that, in the settings of zoom, you can select a slightly higher resolution. I think it’s whatever is half of 1080p, whatever’s the next step down. It’s 760 or something like that.
Megan Porta: Oh, sure. 720 or whatever. Yeah.
Adam Sobel: I think that’s what it is. So yeah, that’s just the settings thing. The other thing that’s a really wacky setting with zoom that I think people always need to mess with for classes is they have some default background noise suppression thing built into zoom. It really messes up the audio, especially if you’re running a blender or something loud and then you go back to talking. Like it takes a while before it takes that noise suppression off. So for a little bit, people can’t hear what you’re saying. There’s some settings to mess with in Zoom if that’s going to be your weapon of choice.
The other thing that I do is for the recording of the class. I do that outside of zoom so that no matter what zoom’s compression settings are, you still end up with something in full resolution.
So I do that in OBS, what’s going into zoom so that it’s at full 10 ADP, even if zoom is not. Anything that might happen in zoom, whether it’s like your internet crashes or some other hiccup happens, no matter what, you can still make the full class recording, even if there’s some internet glitch. It’s just a good redundancy.
Megan Porta: I never would have thought of that.
Adam Sobel: I’ll also record it to the cloud and zoom if, just as a backup thing, but recording it outside. Especially if you’re planning to sell those recordings later on, you want it to be as high quality as possible.
Megan Porta: Sure. Yep. Cool. Okay. That was a lot of great information. I want to ask you about how you market. Is there anything with the technical details that you want to cover before we go into marketing?
Adam Sobel: No, I think that covers a lot of it. The only other technical thing is if you are doing food blogging, It’s really nice to have a camera that can be used for both. I have several cameras in my setup that are really only for video, but my A camera that I use for my portrait shots is a Sony A74, which is also a really good hybrid camera for shooting food photographs with. So it’s nice to not have to have cameras you can’t use for your other work. So if you’re looking to invest in cameras for a class, just keep it in mind that you should have something that’s also helpful to your other food photography needs. Because there’s a lot of cameras that are like video only.
Megan Porta: Very cool. Okay, so let’s talk about marketing. How do you market these classes?
Adam Sobel: So I’m lucky in that, before I was doing this, I had this pretty popular food truck. So I had a pretty active social media following and stuff, but I really feel like the days of social media are long over. There’s still people somehow growing their thing. If you want to spend lots of your time editing reels and TikTok, which I really don’t want to spend my time doing. But largely, the days of organic reach on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter are really over, as of six or seven years ago. I felt so lucky that the timing of when I started my food truck was the prime time for that. I could have 5,000 people following me and I could put out like a picture on. Facebook and a hundred thousand people might see it. Because people would share it and whatnot. Now I have 50,000 people following me and if I don’t throw any money at it, 80 people will see it. It’s really become only helpful as a paid advertising platform. So I do that. I really hate the Facebook ads manager. I feel like every time I’m in there, they’ve changed it. Like you have to just be like a full time marketing person to really get the most out of it. So since I sell my classes through Eventbrite, they have this thing called Eventbrite Boost, which is a 50 a month fee to pay to be in this program. What it is, it’s a real simplification of dealing with Facebook ads manager, where you can put in a few different pictures and a few different ad copies. Then put in a few different targeted audiences. Then as you run it throttles whichever creatives are functioning the best and sending more funding to whichever audience is actually responding best. So it takes a lot of the fiddly side of that out of the picture, which I really appreciate. What I found really works the best is not really reaching out to a cold audience through that too much. Mostly it’s retargeting for people who have already taken my classes, which, in the event that you’re teaching lots of free and donation based classes, that can be a huge pool of people. People who have visited my website because you can, put a Facebook pixel on your website and track who’s been there and serve ads to those people who already have some interest in your little world. That’s what I found works better than just targeting people who are vegan in this or that city between this or that age. I feel like that’s a real shot in the dark and I just get a lot better results with using Facebook marketing to retarget people who already are somewhat interested in what I do.
Megan Porta: Then do you have a big email list or maybe that’s what you’re going to say?
Adam Sobel: I never had an email list like for the entire time I ran my food truck. I just started building one like during the pandemic as I started teaching these classes. It’s not massive, but it’s really healthy. I use ConvertKit and I have a filter set up so that basically anyone who doesn’t open an email within 30 days, I just get removed from my list. So my open rate is 70 something percent. The click through rate is really good. I try to give a lot of informative, helpful, not marketing content in my automations on my email list so that when I do have a class that’s for sale, people are psyched. It’s not like they’re just getting bombarded with ads from my thing. So that’s been one really nice addition to marketing for me is email marketing. My list is slowly growing, but I’m always like culling it to keep it just really people who want to be receiving those emails.
The other marketing thing is really having a blog and finding ways to incorporate leads to your classes in your blog. So there’s a bunch of different ways. Obviously you can have a little thumbnail in your sidebar though everybody’s on mobile now and stuff. So there’s ways to put some really good in-content links. I have an in content link for my membership. But as well, there’s a couple different ways to create these sort of dynamic reusable blocks. This is something I’m just starting to play around with now so I’ll have to get back to you on how well it works. I have, for instance, a Sattvic Indian food class recording, and so I can have a block that only shows a sort of thumbnail and information about that class in the content of Indian recipes. Then I might have a different one where if it’s in an italian category, there’s a little in-content linked to like my pizza making class so that you’re showing people stuff that’s actually relevant to what they’re interested in. It’s not just throwing spaghetti at the wall. I’m hoping the person looking at your Indian food thing also wants to take your taco making class. So that’s straight up why I created my blog as a marketing funnel to my classes. That’s my primary source of revenue.
Megan Porta: Amazing. I love your kind of bare bones approach to if something is trending toward not working like some social media platforms, you’re just doing something different. Which I really appreciate.
Adam Sobel: Yeah, I’ve totally heard this on your podcast before. I’m glad like I’m not the only one who feels this way. It’s so easy to feel pressured, like you have to be active on every single thing. I don’t have time to play around with TikTok. That stuff takes way too much time. It’s so easy to get sidetracked. Then you’re sitting there, like looking at some dude dressed up like a spaghetti doing a dance or whatever. I don’t have time for it. It’s not a fulfilling use of my time. So I just don’t do that stuff.
Megan Porta: It’s refreshing. Another point of refreshment from you, Adam. Just giving people permission not to feel like they have to do those things.
Adam Sobel: I’m just like an ice cold glass of kiwi berry snapple in the mist. I’m completely… Refreshing.
Megan Porta: Lemonade. Fresh lemonade. I love it so much. Then I have one question for you about just subject matter because I feel like your subject is so great for video and cooking class consumption because people who become vegan need to learn this stuff; seitan and cheese and there’s so many things that are mysterious about veganism. But for the rest of us, it’s what could we make classes about that would be?
Adam Sobel: Oh no. You got it wrong. Everybody’s got to learn how to cook yummy food. We’re living in an age where more and more people don’t have that life skill. More and more people are growing up not cooking with their grandma for some reason and stuff. Whether your audience has some dietary thing or not, you’ve got a huge audience with people who come to your blog all the time to learn how to cook x y and z from you. Hopefully you’re an expert in making those things. So whatever your thing is, go for it. There’s already an audience of people who are spending time on your blog, learning it from you about whatever it is. So for sure you could teach them how to cook in other ways.
Megan Porta: Of course you would say that because you’re a refreshing glass of lemonade. I love that. I always get stuck in that thought that I don’t have anything novel or exciting to teach people so I just shut that down.
Adam Sobel: Yeah, thousands of people disagree with you, to show up on your website all the time. You have put a lot of time and I say you like everyone who’s listening to this, who has a blog and has spent countless hours recipe testing and fiddling around. You all have people who are interested in hearing from you. On the other hand, not everybody’s comfortable in front of a camera though. That’s a whole other story. It took me a while to learn that. I was lucky that early on in my culinary profession, I got to be on a bunch of food network stuff and PBS stuff. It got me more comfortable speaking in front of a camera or teaching cooking demos at a big veg fest or something like that. It takes some time to figure out how to be comfortable in your setting and convey your style in a way that comes off nicely. That’s the one thing that, that’s not for everybody.
Megan Porta: Yeah. Some people just really are not comfortable with it.
Adam Sobel: Yeah. Yeah. Word. Yeah.
Megan Porta: That’s fine. Okay. Wow. So you talked through a lot; monetization, technical details, marketing. Is there anything that you want to be sure we mentioned before we start saying goodbye?
Adam Sobel: I have this new really fun thing that I’m working on, but it’s going to be so off the wall different from anything I’ve ever done that I’m like straight up not really talking about it yet. But I’m launching it like this month and I’m so psyched because I really have been missing directly cooking for other people. There’s so many people who I share that I have some class coming up and they’re like, we don’t want to learn from you how to cook. We just want you to cook for us. So I’m looking forward to doing a little bit of that again. But it’s something very compartmentalized because having a restaurant leaves you no time to do any of this other stuff. I’ve really come to love putting out a few blog posts a week and doing a couple classes a month and having time to do culinary consulting and a little catering. So this little thing is just something I can pull off with my kids locally and it’s gonna be a hundred percent wild, wacky, and weird. Because I want it to be as much fun for me as it’s going to be for the people eating the food.
Megan Porta: Super intrigued. You have us all on the edge of our seats here.
Adam Sobel: Sorry!
Megan Porta: Yeah, nice work. Then I was looking at your blog. It doesn’t look like a cookie cutter blog, which is good. Again, refreshing.
Adam Sobel: I’m trying, like I think it’s obvious it’s like a real balance for bloggers, I think to give their blog some personality and style, but still have it be really optimized. I’d like mine to still look a little bit cooler and more custom. It’s so new to me that I just want to get it functioning well before I start making it go too haywire.
Megan Porta: What theme do you use, out of curiosity?
Adam Sobel: It’s a feast theme, it’s the foodie pro team, but I’ve used those cadence blocks and stuff like that to create some fun little customizations. Then a lot of the non blog post pages, I created my own full page template that doesn’t have the sidebar and gives me a little bit more room to do other visually nice looking things with it. But yeah, for the general blog posts. It’s just like a Template with the foodie pro theme. A little bit of CSS here and there but nothing too crazy. Even though it’s like science fiction for me to learn how to do that.
Megan Porta: Yes, it can be hard to learn. Then I found Michael Lotito, I found some websites on him. If anyone’s interested in exactly what he ate in his lifetime, 18 bicycles, 7 TVs, 2 beds, 15 supermarket trolleys, a computer, a coffin, a pair of skis, six chandeliers, and, of course, the airplane. He limited his bicycle eating to two a year.
Adam Sobel: Yeah. You gotta have some self control there, he was like, on a diet. You can’t mess around. It’s probably not very good for your cholesterol to eat more than two or three bicycles a year.
Megan Porta: Oh my goodness. Was this guy mentally well? I can’t find anything about…
Adam Sobel: Yeah. I watched a video of him out to dinner with his wife and he seemed normal except he was legit eating the plates and glasses on the table. But otherwise he seems like a pretty down to earth fella, okay.
Megan Porta: All right. I’m gonna read up on him. Thank you, Adam. You are so refreshing. I loved our chat. I feel like we could have about a million more of them, so if you ever want to come back on Eat Blog Talk, please do. The invitation is there.
Adam Sobel: Your podcast was so helpful to me in figuring out how to do a food blog. I listened to countless episodes and your voice is so lovely. It sounds so friendly and fun and young and it’s just lovely to chat with you in real life.
Megan Porta: Oh, that is the best compliment. Thank you. Truly such a great conversation today. Do you have either a favorite quote or words of inspiration to leave us with?
Adam Sobel: So my favorite quote is from Dwayne The Rock Johnson and it’s that you should eat more spaghetti in the bathtub, is what he said.
Megan Porta: Oh my gosh, my boys are in love with The Rock.
Adam Sobel: I don’t really know if he said that, but hopefully he said it.
Megan Porta: Okay, I’m gonna look, I’m gonna look it up.
Adam Sobel: You can trust me on that.
Megan Porta: Yeah, so I live with three boys, including my husband, and they are all obsessed with The Rock, so I get quotes and images and all kinds of Rock information.
Adam Sobel: Now I’m even more proud of you for surviving in a boy-filled house. I don’t know how you do it. I have two girls, and most of our dogs are girls. The only male person other than me in this house is our wallaby. He’s pretty chill as far as boys go. But yeah, my sister will come over and she’ll bring her two little boys. Every time they leave, I’m like, I don’t know how people survive having little boys. It’s too much energy.
Megan Porta: It is so much energy. Okay, so I have two boys, a husband and both of our pets are male. So I am in a house of, what is that? One, two, three, four, five, five to one. No girls. I’m the only one.
Adam Sobel: I don’t know how you do it.
Megan Porta: Oh, I survived. I’ve survived so far somehow.
Adam Sobel: Give you a lot of props.
Megan Porta: All right, Adam, we’re going to put together show notes for you. If anyone wants to go look at those, head over to eatblogtalk.com/cinnamonsnail. Tell everyone where they can find you, Adam.
Adam Sobel: You can find me online at cinnamonsnail.com. I’m also the East Coast regional representative from Gatorade.com.
Megan Porta: What? Gatorade?
Adam Sobel: It’s not true. I have no affiliation with Gatorade.
Megan Porta: I was like, wait a second, what are we?
Adam Sobel: Sorry about that. It’s just Cinnamonsnail.com.
Megan Porta: No, you’re good. That’s so funny. All right, everyone go check Adam out. Thank you so much for being here again, Adam, and thank you for listening today, food bloggers. I will see you in the next episode.
Outro: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Eat Blog Talk. Don’t forget to head to forum.eatblogtalk.com to join our free discussion forum and connect with and learn from like minded peers. I will see you next time.
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