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Episode 115: Running Challenges With Denise Bustard

Blog Title: Sweet Peas and Saffron

Social Media:

Sweet Peas and Saffron on Facebook

Sweet Peas and Saffron on Instagram

About: Denise has been a food blogger at Sweet Peas & Saffron since 2012. For the first 4-5 years, she blogged about everything from healthy to indulgent foods, and never really found her community. In 2016, Denise decided to take the leap and niche down on the topic of meal prep. Through focussing on a niche topic, and hosting live meal prep challenges, she was able to build a community and connection with her audience, and found a real home in the blogging world.

Notes from Episode #115: Running Challenges To Connect and Build Your Audience

  • Fun fact: Denise has a PhD in Bio-Chemistry. 
  • Denise started running challenges in 2016 and has run about 14 challenges since.
  • How To Create Your Free Challenge:
    • A challenge is an event that you put on your blog outside of your normal recipe content. The goal is to teach a new skill in bite sized pieces or to encourage your audience in some way to take action when they need a little extra push to get started. 
    • You want the readers to experience some sort of transformation.
    • People like their handheld to get started. There is a little bit of effort to get people started but a challenge offers your audience accountability as they put effort into finishing it. Through the challenge there are benefits that you as the person running the challenge will point out to them. 
    • A challenge will help your audience to get to know you more, check out your content and build trust with you. 
  • Denise runs different challenges at different times of the year. Meal prep is a hit in January but in the fall they do a stock up the freezer challenge. 
    • Structure – Denise’s challenges take place via email and she sends out 2 emails per week for 2 weeks. They have a meal plan, some recipes and a shopping list. Everything they need to meal prep each week. The email is big and has a lot of information but they had to subscribe to her email list to join the challenge so they aren’t surprised by it. 
    • Denise also created a Facebook group to help build community. She gets them interacting, posts questions and offers prizes to those who post pictures of your completed meal preps. The pictures posted by participants push people that were on the fence forward completing it. 
    • Denise offers 3-4 challenges each year. 
  • Key to a successful challenge is to have everyone in it at the same time doing the same thing. It’s inspirational and easier to manage. January, Spring and Back to School in September are Denise’s challenges. 
  • Denise recommends looking up the challenge expert – Simple Green Smoothies – they recommend challenges should be short and sweet and to be 1 week with daily emails. Denise runs her for 2 weeks. 
    • Denise and others find that 30 days is too long to get people to stay interested in.
    • Denise’s first challenge had 50 people and her second had 250 and her 3rd one had 15,000.
  • A little luck and good timing is needed for a challenge. You can try something and tweak it. Consider the time of the year, the best amount of days to run it and getting onto people’s radar to join.
  • Denise was sharing these challenges on her social media as well as her email list. She asks her audience to help her spread the word. After people have done it once, they are more likely to return and recruit people.
  • Denise became an authority in challenges and then grew her following for her website content. Over the years she has a lot of people come back to challenges and they are also commenting on her blog too. 
  • Denise likes to poll people when she begins a challenge and finds that it’s 50/50 of returning audience members and new people committing to a challenge. 
  • The first couple of challenges do take some getting used to and learning what works best for you but then you find a format and formula that works. 
  • Denise used to run new menus each challenge but that required her writing out new menus and reshooting video demos, and so now there is a permanent challenge for each month so she doesn’t have to completely redo each one. 
  • Denise did use Facebook live videos when she began creating these events but has evolved to a Youtube video that is more professional. 
  • Denise got to know her readers on a personal level through running these challenges. Connections were deeper and understanding their struggles helped her to blog better. 
  • Denise asks participants to share a small victory at the completion of the 2 weeks. For Denise it is so fulfilling to read through these at the end of each challenge. 
  • Denise has been able to build additional components into her challenges. All the recipes are free but if you want them all in one place, you can purchase the card kit for $5. She offers a bundle of ebooks too. This has required experimentation but she’s trying it out. Timing is key.
  • If someone is wanting to test the water, how do you get started?
    • Check out Build Your Challenge course by Jenna Kutcher. She walks through everything from how to pick a topic, all the way through to completing it.
    • Make your challenge simple, with bite size steps. 
    • Consider the seasons. 
    • Subscribe to other challenges to learn about them. 
    • Jump in and try them out yourself!
  • In the beginning, Denise was too focused on the numbers. She started small with only 50 people in her group but that allowed her to fail, fix it and make it better.

Helpful references from the episode:

Other great resources to learn about running challenges:

Simple Green Smoothies

Build Your Challenge by Jadah Sellner


Megan started her food blog Pip and Ebby in 2010 and food blogging has been her full-time career since 2013. Her passion for blogging has grown into an intense desire to help fellow food bloggers find the information, insight, and community they need in order to find success.

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