In episode 331, Megan chats with Jen Wooster, founder of Peel with Zeal, about how to set up your business so that you can take extended periods of time off worry-free and how to future-proof your business.
We cover information about how much content you need to release, think through everything you need for emails and social media, maintain traffic by combining seasonal and evergreen content and why hiring out tasks will help you be more successful.
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Bio Jen is a retired COO used to managing organizations of 2,000 people or more. She started Peel with Zeal, a gluten-free food blog, at the end of 2017. Starting as a hobby she has built Peel with Zeal into a full-time business helping her readers create easy recipes at home. Jen has set up her business to allow her to take 2 to 6 months off every year to go on extensive long-distance backpacking trips.Jen thru-hiked Appalachian Trail in 2020 and is hiking the first 650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 2022. She documents her adventures at Cooking.Up.Adventure on Instagram.
- Simplify scheduling out content while you’re gone by focusing on 1x a month for posts, Pinterest, newsletters.
- Use web stories to help keep content going because it’s faster to create and keeps people visiting your site even when you take time off.
- You are over batching if you started a lot of content but haven’t set to publish any.
- If you work a job outside of blogging, these planning tips can help you feel accomplished and simplify the process.
- Evergreen traffic (year round revenue) vs Seasonal traffic (seasonal spike) helps you determine what to schedule out vs post when its ready.
- Repurpose recipes can help you be more efficiency.
- Give exclusive content to your readers on newsletter or in a video online but they aren’t on your website.
- Utilize a VA to help you grow faster and give them work that you can then take that time and be creating more content. A VA also gives you a push to keep on task.
- Create SOP for any VA’s you work with. Record training sessions so they can be referred to again. Be open to feedback.
Airtable – keep track of content and track keyword research
Episode 278 – How To Use Your Photography Skills to Multiply Your Income
Click for full script.
Jen Wooster – Revised
Jen Wooster: Hi, this is Jen Wooster from Peel with Zeal and you are listening to the Eat Blog Talk podcast.
Sponsor: Hey, awesome food bloggers. Before we dig into this episode, I have a really quick favor to ask you. Go to your favorite podcast player. Go to Eat Blog Talk, scroll down to the bottom where you see the ratings and review section. Leave Eat Blog Talk a five star rating if you love this podcast and leave a great review. This will only benefit this podcast, it adds value. I so very much appreciate your efforts with this. Thank you so much for doing this. Okay. Now onto the episode.
Megan Porta: Hey, food bloggers. Welcome to Eat Blog Talk, the podcast for food bloggers, looking for the value and confidence that will move the needle forward in their businesses. This episode is sponsored by RankIQ. I am your host, MeganP orta, and you are listening to episode number 331. Today, I have Jen Wooster here with me. She is going to talk to us about how to plan for taking extended time off and also future proofing your business. Jen is a retired COO used to managing organizations of 2000 people or more. She started Peal with Zeal, a gluten free food blog at the end of 2017. Starting as a hobby, she has built peel with seal into a full-time business, helping her readers create easy recipes at home. Jen has set up her business to allow her to take two to six months off every year to go on extensive long distance backpacking trips. Jen, through hiked Appalachian trail in 2020 and is hiking the first 650 miles of the Pacific Crest trail in 2022. She documents her adventures at Cooking Up Adventure on Instagram. Oh my gosh, Jen. That’s okay. But will you please, I haven’t asked you about your fun fact yet, but tell me about that. How did you get into that?
Jen Wooster: It is something I wanted to do in my twenties, which would make way more sense when I was in better shape, we’ll say. Because the Appalachian Trail is a 2200 mile foot trail from Maine to Georgia. I did not grow up outdoorsy. I was really career focused though. So I had the opportunity to stop working relatively young in my late thirties and switch to food blogging, which has really allowed me to do the things that I love. That is why I love what we do as content creators, is the flexibility it gives us.
Megan Porta: Oh, that’s so cool. I’m going to go look at your adventures on Instagram. I didn’t know you had that separately. How was that account doing? Just outta curiosity.
Jen Wooster: It’s brand new. So I previously had documented the Appalachian Trail on Peel with Zeal, but I am looking to start a second, very niche website about food in the outdoors, both camping and backpacking recipes. Later this year, early next year is when I’m planning to launch. So when I did the Pacific Crest trail, this spring, I started Cooking Up Adventure. It’s actually Cooking.Up.Adventure on Instagram and YouTube. You can see me complain about how hard it is and the long water carries and how dirty I am.
Megan Porta: oh, I’m excited.
Jen Wooster: While I laugh about it.
Megan Porta: I’m excited to see you all dirty and straining yourself. No, I’m super impressed by all that you’re doing right now. You have your hands and a little bit of everything. So cool. So I wanna talk to you more about what you’re here for today, but first, do you have a fun fact aside from all that? This is all so fun.
Jen Wooster: I won the Madison County Fair pig calling contest in 1982. I won a two liter Pepsi and a leather portfolio. I have to be honest that all my accomplishments pale in comparison to the roaring crowd and the thrill of victory.
Megan Porta: Oh my gosh. Where are you from? Where do you live?
Jen Wooster: I live in Ohio. I live in Columbus now, but when I was younger, we lived in a more rural community.
Megan Porta: It sounds like where I grew up. I grew up in rural Iowa and that sounds right up our alley. That’s so funny. Can you still call pigs?
Jen Wooster: Oh, I didn’t properly call the pig. My strategy was to appeal to the crowd. So instead of calling the pig, like all the guys, not guys, young boys did. I went up there and said here, little piggy piggy. Who do you think the pig, a pig is gonna come to me. I sound nice.
Megan Porta: Oh my goodness. That’s so funny. I love it. Okay. We’re starting off with a bang. This is also great. Future proofing your business and planning for taking time off. I kinda mentioned this in your bio, that you take two to six months off every year. That’s oh, my gosh. Inspiring. That sounds great to me. So how did you get to the point where you decided that you wanted to do this?
Jen Wooster: I think the benefit of being a content creator is flexibility, but we don’t always necessarily take advantage of it. So even if you don’t wanna take off two to six months a year, following this batching planning schedule, it gives you a lot more flexibility. So if your day job has a peak season, or if you wanna take the kids on a road trip when they’re off school for the summer, you’re caring for aging parents. Having some content planned out, gives you a lot of flexibility and really reduces stress. So I originally started down this when I was trying to get into Mediavine. I was doing two to three posts a week, updating all my old posts. The minute I was able to apply to Mediavine, I knew I was gonna take six months off to hike the AT. So I had to switch to being in planning mode, but I only had six weeks left and I knew I couldn’t get two posts a week for six months.
So I had to come up with another plan that allowed my blog to continue to thrive, because I didn’t want it to look like a digital wasteland. I had gotten into Mediavine and I really wanted to maximize my revenue while I was gone for six months.
Megan Porta: So how did you put a calendar together? Did you just stack up your content with your already produced content? Or how did that look for you?
Jen Wooster: I did a mix of reusing content I already had and writing new content. So most of us, when we think about batching and working ahead, if you are doing two posts a week, you do the two posts for this week and the two posts for next week and then the two posts for three weeks out. I looked at it very differently and said, I’m gonna do six posts, one per month. So now I know for the next six months, I have at least something new going up on the blog and so it looks fresh. Then when I got the six done, I did two more and did two per month and then did two for the next month. Then I ended up, I think for the first three months I had about six posts a month. Athen for the last three months I had two to four. So it was slowly going down, but it was staying relevant. I did a combination of new recipes and a combination of old content that I repurposed.
So I had a roasted veggie sandwich that did really well. So I had pictures of all the pieces and parts. So I did a recipe on how to roast eggplant and how to roast zucchini and how to roast onions. I made those all into separate recipes. Ironically, the eggplant recipe is my best performing recipe.
Megan Porta: Oh, wow. Oh, that’s so funny. Okay. So you just made a plan, you sat down and you were like, this needs to work because you wanted to take that time off. Did you take the time off entirely? I’m sure you probably didn’t have an opportunity to go into your blog at all during that time.
Jen Wooster: So when I’m taking time off. I’m usually into town every three to five days, so I can check on things, but I am not blogging. So I might post a story to Instagram or something like that. But I had all of my Instagram scheduled out. I had all of my email scheduled out. Amy from, is it Save the Veggies? Did I get that right?
Megan Porta: Oh, Veggies Save the Day?
Jen Wooster: Veggies Save the Day. In her five email tips, I realized as I was getting ready to go on the Pacific Crest trail that I had not scheduled out my email and I did not have time to write one a week. So I did the same concept where I did one a month. Then as I had more time, I went back and did an extra one for Easter.
Megan Porta: Ah, yeah, you’ve gotta think of all the avenues, right? Social media, email, blog. Is there anything else?
Jen Wooster: So all the social media, YouTube, and then now I’m doing web stories. So with the creation of web stories, that has been extremely helpful in terms of keeping your blog fresh. So I actually did less posts on this last trip and scheduled more web stories because they’re easier to create, they’re faster and they drive a huge amount of traffic. They’re the new Pinterest. When a web story goes and does well, it ends up doing well on Pinterest because people pin it for you.
Megan Porta: Yeah. I love that you phrased it like that. They’re the new Pinterest, because it really is. Pinterest is slowly dying for us. Maybe it will reinvigorate itself soon. Who knows. But while it’s slowly dying, we’re getting traffic from web stories. So yeah, I think people should definitely get on board with that. Don’t you agree, Jen?
Jen Wooster: Oh, absolutely. Web stories will work for a while and then I’m sure there’ll be something else. It’s just part of the, it’s part of the process. But I find by working out six months and just having a little bit of content scheduled out, it really takes the stress off to be able to experiment with things like web stories and trying out these newsletter tips that Amy gave and things like that.
Megan Porta: So planning and batching is kind of part of your process, your everyday life, really. Do you have any tips about it? Because I know a lot of people resist batching because it’s hard work. It is not easy. It’s not always fun. What are your best tips about it?
Jen Wooster: So I think you have to be careful of over batching content. So the ways that you can tell that you are over batching, is you’re bored, or you’re avoiding working on your blog, which I definitely did when I was working my day job. I found the sweet spot of batching and was working further ahead, but with less content, I would’ve been much more successful early on. So I think it is a, everybody is different and you have to test it out. But the way you know, is if you have a bunch of recipes or a bunch of posts that everything is a work in progress and nothing is getting published, you are over batching.
Megan Porta: Oh, okay. Do you just have to play with it?
Jen Wooster: Yes. I think it’s about what you like. So personally, I like keyword research. So I can Keyword research, 15 to 20 recipes and test those over a couple months. I like SEO research. It’s like a treasure hunt. This game, and I think it’s really fun. But for me, I’m not really great at photography and it’s really hard for me. So I can’t do more than four to six recipes. I’m even starting to bring that down a little bit until I feel like I’m a little bit stronger on the photography side. I have to balance small photography projects, like a sauce or a cocktail with a more elaborate recipe, like a dinner recipe or a cake.
Megan Porta: So it really is experimentation and just ongoing making tweaks and evolving.
Jen Wooster: Absolutely. So I think Air Table is super helpful for this because I can do all my keyword research and then really look at what are things that I want to make that I can rank for. Then look at how I schedule out versus what I should post now.
Megan Porta: So you use Air Table to manage all of your content and then keep track of everything that you’re talking about here too.
Jen Wooster: Yes, absolutely. So I like the con bond view, so I can put everything into the buckets of my process, where I have, these are the keywords I want to go after. The next bucket is I’m going to create the recipe, test the recipe. Then I go to photography. Then I go to actually writing, editing, video and then social media or marketing that post. So I can see what I have and when I start to see a bucket get really long, I know that I have over batched and I need to adjust how I am working.
Megan Porta: How far are you planned out right now?
Jen Wooster: So I have six posts scheduled from now to the end of the year. So it’s June now. So I have one a month for the rest of the year and I then go back and I start filling in. I’ll do two per month and then I’ll actually get to six to eight per month. But I work on a lot of those in the current month they’re going to be published. I like to have that kind of future proofing. So if something happens in my life or I have an opportunity to go on an adventure or do something fun, then I know that I can take advantage of the flexibility of being a content creator, because I have some content planned.
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Megan Porta: You do this, if you’re anticipating a fun adventure, but also if you’re just living life because of what you just said. What if a fun adventure comes up and you wanna take the opportunity to go on it? So it’s not just like you have something planned, but you recommend that people do this no matter what.
Jen Wooster: Absolutely. I think it is particularly important if you are still working another job. Even if your other job is being a stay at home caregiver, that is another job. I think that this really takes the pressure off. So when life gets hectic and when things blow up, you know that this is okay. And it is not something that you have to stress about because you have planned out. I think it is better to take advantage of that seasonal traffic than to worry about it. I have to get two out today or two out this week or three out this week. It just really gives you breathing space and it makes blogging more fun.
Megan Porta: I completely agree with this. We take a vacation every summer that’s usually three to four weeks. There have been years when I have not planned ahead and those vacations are so stressful because I’m doing exactly what you were just talking about. I’m like, oh my gosh, I have to get out another post this week. I haven’t done social media and my email. It’s just clutter in my mind that doesn’t need to be there when I’m supposed to be enjoying my time with my family. There have also been years when I’ve thought through my content and planned and scheduled, and those have been the funnest years ever, because I don’t have to think about it. It’s so lovely, isn’t it, just to know that it’s being taken care of.
Jen Wooster: Absolutely. I think the nice thing about planning out is I’m not planning out the two recipes I wanna post per week. I’m planning out a little bit of content. So as I stumble upon a good keyword, or I wanna take advantage of a trend, I have room in my calendar to slot in that post real time.
Megan Porta: That’s a great point. So it’s not like you need to sit down and figure everything out. Leave some wiggle room so that you can post on the fly when inspired. I think like right now, TikTok is like that for me, where I feel like I couldn’t schedule and plan out everything. Some of the things just come to me and I think it’s the same way on Instagram and maybe the posts you’re writing about. Some of that can’t be scheduled out. But percentage wise, how much would you say you’re scheduled out?
Jen Wooster: I am scheduling out 10 to 15%. Maybe 20%. We’ll say 20%. Then the rest I am doing in the month, usually a couple weeks ahead of when I want to actually post. The reason is I’m trying to balance capturing traffic now versus post consistency later. So the way I figure out what I’m scheduling out versus what I’m going to work on and turn live, as soon as I can, is evergreen traffic versus seasonal traffic. So, we’ll say two cookie recipes. A chocolate chip cookie recipe, I want to publish as soon as it’s ready, because that will earn revenue all year round. Versus a gingerbread cookie, I may write the post, take all the photos now, get the video ready, but I’m probably gonna schedule it for early in the fall so I can take advantage of that seasonal spike, but it’s probably not gonna really earn me any revenue over the summer.
Megan Porta: Okay. Yeah. I love that you talked through that. Okay. So do you have ways that we can just use our time better in general? So planning and scheduling obviously helps, but what are some other ways that we can just be more efficient food bloggers?
Jen Wooster: So in addition to repurposing recipes that you may already have, I have started using that buy and use the semi exclusive in some exclusive content on some of the forums that Art From My Table talked about on a previous episode. I have really started to play with that. And I used that in a way that might be a little bit different. So there’s the SEO. Can I rank for this? How many other people are buying it? If it’s semi-exclusive, what keywords can I use to attract traffic versus can I use it for something else, which is a semi exclusive is significantly less expensive, about 10% of what an exclusive recipe would cost. So can I do a quick video showing myself making the recipe? If it’s a cocktail recipe and using that on web stories, Instagram, TikTok? Can I include the full recipe in my email newsletter to give my reader’s exclusive content? At least exclusive, it’s not on the website. The other thing I look at is can I change an ingredient? So if they have the ingredient list here and can I add some spices and just Photoshop them into the photos that they provide, of where I’m like, oh, these are the extra spices I use. Or just take a separate photo of them and add that to make it a unique recipe that would work for my readers. So modifying the ingredient list. So instead of a smoothie with milk, maybe it’s a smoothie with almond milk. So I’ve been really in a good position where I can really maximize my content creation without spending as much time and it’s really affordable.
Megan Porta: That’s smart. You’re definitely thinking through every avenue. I’d never thought of doing that with the email and just providing exclusive content in your email because it’s not on your site anywhere. That’s super smart. So what do you think about hiring help to help you with all of this, to maximize your time?
Jen Wooster: So I did not have help during the Appalachian Trail. But I hired a VA before the Pacific Crest Trail. I think if I could go back and do it again, my lesson learned is I would’ve hired a VA and paid someone else first, before I started paying myself. I think I would’ve grown significantly faster. For me as someone who, I used to be a COO and if I made a mistake, people would lose their jobs. So I respond to this pressure very naturally of being accountable to people. So when I have a VA, I feel like I have to get them work. They expect certain things from me and it actually helps me really stay on top of things. So right now, I have her helping with doing mainly social media and creating web stories, but you can really have help in any part of your business.
It could be grocery shopping, carpooling, inside or outside your business, I should say. My nextt hire is going to be someone to help me on photo shoot days, because I, as I mentioned, do not like batching my photos. I find it very stressful. So I would really like someone to do the dishes, help with chopping vegetables, things like that. That will be my next hire.
Megan Porta: Those are great ideas. How do you find a good VA though? I think this is a very common issue that food bloggers have right now. Where do you even go?
Jen Wooster: I think the first thing you need to do is write a job description. So one of the things I found when I started asking for referrals for VAs, is everybody wanted to do Pinterest. I was like I don’t really need someone to do that. so I wrote a very detailed job description of what I wanted and what they were not going to work on. I joined a VA Facebook group called VA Savvies. I put in a very specific job description with very specific links on how I wanted them to apply. That immediately cuts out a good number of people who don’t follow the process. From there, I interviewed everybody over Zoom. I did reference checks and then, they are contractors, so they have to set their own hours. So I gave them, these are my job requirements. These are the hours that I can afford to pay. What within that can you actually get done? So we did a lot of time tracking to start with. I think the hardest part is that you will always be faster. I think that’s a hard thing for food bloggers, content creators to understand. When you outsource something, you will always do it faster than they can do it. Just because you’ve been doing it longer. Until you get into that kind of higher level contractor who does social media for lots of brands or bloggers. If you’re starting out in the VA space, that’s gonna be a really common thing. That’s okay because it’s freeing up your time and your time is more valuable than the things that you’re outsourcing.
Megan Porta: I love that you mentioned that because we do tend to forget that VAs are gonna come in and they’re not going to be as good or fast, efficient, like all of those words, as we are, because we’ve been doing it for so long. That’s what we do day in and day out. So to have a little bit of grace and just know that, if they keep with it, eventually they will speed up.
Jen Wooster: I think that’s where good training comes in. So the things that you can do to really help onboard your VA and help them be successful in addition to documenting your time, their time, because it’ll be really obvious like that shouldn’t have taken so long. Let me see you do that process. Then you can find ways or give them tips and tricks, but document your SOPs and share them. We record all our trading sessions on Zoom so they can refer back to them. That’s smart. That and having good checklists. Then I think it’s important to have metrics and track their progress, but I do a trust, but verify method. That is how I manage my VA. She’s been fantastic. I think I always invite feedback.So I had been using for example, I’d been using Later to schedule all of my social media. She felt very strongly that creator studio and Facebook would be much better for Instagram. I resisted it first and I said, okay, I’ll test it for a week. She was a hundred percent, it was so much faster for both of us. We cut out like 10 hours a month. I was just like, Wow. So don’t assume just because you’ve been doing it a certain way, that is actually the best way.
Megan Porta: Oh, I love that so much. My VA is amazing too. Every once in a while, she’ll have a different idea and I’m like, in my mind, I’m like, but this is how I do it. I have to just let that go and allow us to experiment together. I think doing it as a team is really valuable too. You do find your way, you find those nuggets that really work and you just have to run with it. Is there anything else about VA work that you want to mention?
Jen Wooster: I just think it’s really important if you are hiring. My VA is based in the Philippines, but I think you should pay a fair and living wage. I think that’s extremely important. You will feel better about yourself and your VA will stick with you for the long term and make sure that you understand the difference between an independent contractor and an employee. If they’re based here in the US. I think that’s really important. The IRS has good information on that. So you can go through a checklist, so you don’t find yourself in any legal trouble. Then I just will say that checking in frequently, just to make sure that, when we started, we were doing Zoom calls 30 minutes a week, and now we’re doing 15 every two weeks. Then when I was on the Pacific Crest Trail, I would just check in when I was in town every five days or so. She managed all my social media. So it took some time to get to a place where we were both comfortable, but I think with a commitment of finding the right person and a commitment to getting feedback from her, we were really able to create a process that worked.
Megan Porta: So between planning, batching, thinking through things ahead of time, maybe looking outside the box like you did with purchasing content and using it in new ways and then leaning on VA help, this is a really great strategy for just preparing yourself for something that’s coming up, whether it’s a vacation or just something that you’re not expecting. Is there anything we’re forgetting in this conversation, Jen?
Jen Wooster: Not that I can think of. I just wanna encourage people that if you are new, to stick with content creation, if you’re enjoying it and find what works for you.
Megan Porta: Thank you. This was amazing. I came away with some new ideas myself. So I appreciate all of this value shared. Thank you for being here today.
Jen Wooster: Absolutely.
Megan Porta: So much fun to connect with you after I’m obsessed with your TikTok channel or what is it, account? Which you’ll tell people about in a bit. But for now, do you have a quote or words of inspiration to share with us?
Jen Wooster: I just think that the comparison in the world of content creation and social media can be really challenging for creators. Just remember that benchmarking is healthy, but don’t compare apples and oranges.
Megan Porta: Oh, great advice. I love that. I think we all need to hear that daily. We will put together show notes for you, Jen. If anyone wants to go look at those, you can find them eateatblogtalk.com/peelwithzeal. Okay. Tell everyone where they can find you. Mention your social channels again and tell everyone what your TikTok account is as well.
Jen Wooster: I am Peel with Zeal on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. And peelwithzeal.com. So please reach out and say hi. I’d love to hear from people and find new accounts to follow. If you’re interested in my hiking adventures, I am cooking.Up.Adventure on Instagram and Cooking Up Adventure on YouTube. So yeah, that’s it.
Megan Porta: I’m going to go look at that one as soon as we are done. So I will be your newest follower there. Definitely go check Jen out on TikTok because she’s trying to grow her channel. She’s doing an amazing job of posting a lot of content and it’s really funny. It’s so entertaining. I love you just because you have such a great personality. I can tell, it shines through in your content there. I feel like I really got to know you just within three videos. I was like, oh my gosh, she’s so funny. I wanna know her. So definitely go check Jen out there. Thank you again, Jen, for being here 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. If you enjoyed this episode, I’d be so grateful if you posted it to your social media feed and stories. I will see next time.
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