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Episode 491: How to Write Authentic Newsletters to Grow Engaged Email Subscribers & Increase Your Open Rate with Jacqueline Debono

In episode 491, Jacqueline Debono teaches us how to grow an engaged audience of email subscribers by sending authentic newsletters.

We cover information on how to grow your newsletter subscription base using personal anecdotes, insights into your own life and evergreen content, as well as finding out how often to send out emails to your subscribers.

Listen on the player below or on iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast player. Or scroll down to read a full transcript.

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Guest Details

Connect with The Pasta Project
Website | Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest

Bio Jacqueline is a Brit living in Verona Italy for 20 years, happily married to a wonderful Sicilian. Jacqueline has a love of Italian food, particularly pasta and so 7 years ago she started her blog about Italian pasta, including only authentic Italian recipes for all kinds of pasta (dried, fresh, homemade). Her original goal was to feature as many types of pasta as she could (with recipes). So far Jacqueline has about 400 recipes for 80 types of pasta! Many more to go! Jacqueline got accepted to Mediavine in 2019 (with 25k sessions) now at 190-200k sessions a month. She can say it’s a pretty successful niche blog. But then everybody loves pasta, right?

Takeaways

  • Apply A Growth Strategy: How to approach growing your email subscribers, including the use of the MediaVine subscribe widget, social media, and regular newsletters.
  • Add a Personal Touch: Adding personal elements about your own life into your newsletter, like failures or anecdotes, can lead to increased engagement and a healthy circle of followers.
  • How to Monetize Newsletters: Strategies include the creation of paid-for eBooks and addition of affiliate links.
  • Build Relationships With Your Subscribers: Newsletters offer the opportunity to build real relationships with subscribers, even leading to in-person meetings.
  • Use Social Media Influence: Using success on other platforms such as Facebook is a great way to encourage newsletter sign-ups.
  • Content Reusability: Reusing content, especially recipes, is a unique advantage for food bloggers with evergreen content.
  • Build Subscriber Loyalty: Email subscribers tend to be the most loyal followers, engaging through comments and emails, providing a dedicated audience.
  • A Blogger’s Passion Is Important: Appealing to the passion or interests of the target audience, Jacqueline focused on Italy and Italian food as an example.

Resources Mentioned

Grow Spotlight Widget

Flodesk

Transcript

Click for full script.

EBT491 – Jacqueline Debono

Outro 00:00:

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. I have been a food blogger for 13 years, so I understand how isolating food blogging can be. 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. 

Email subscribers are so important. We hear this all the time, and it’s becoming more and more true as time goes on. Jacqueline Debono from The Pasta Project joins me in this episode to talk about how she grew her email subscribers really quickly by being really authentic with them and using email as a tool to get personal and to tell people about her life. This pulled her subscribers in and got them really intrigued, and now she has this really healthy circle of people who love to follow her. In the episode, Jackie gives all the details about what topics she talks about, how often she sends out her newsletters, what email tool she uses, how often she sends them, and all the other good stuff you’re going to want to know. This is episode number 491, Sponsored by RankIQ.

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Megan Porta 02:59:

Jacqui is a Brit living in Verona, Italy for 20 years, happily married to a wonderful Sicilian. Jackie has a love of Italian food, particularly pasta. And so seven years ago she started her blog about Italian pasta, including only authentic Italian recipes for all kinds of pasta. Her original goal was to feature as many types of pasta as she could. So far, she has about 400 recipes for 80 types of pasta. Jackie got accepted into Media Vine in 2019 with 25,000 sessions. Now she’s at 200,000 sessions a month. She can say it’s a pretty successful niche blog, but then everyone loves pasta. 

Hello Jacqui. How are you today? Thanks for joining me on the podcast.

Jacqueline Debono 03:41:

Hi, Megan. I’m fine. I’m happy to be here.

Megan Porta 03:44:

I’m so excited to chat with you. We’re going to talk about your wild success with newsletters, email newsletters, and how you’ve gotten to that point, and you can give us some of your best secrets. Right. But before we get into all of that, what fun fact do you have to share with us?

Jacqueline Debono 04:00:

Well, I guess the first thing is that I’m actually in my sixties and I didn’t start blogging until I was 55.

Megan Porta 04:08:

Oh, wow. Oh my goodness. That’s awesome. Yeah.

Jacqueline Debono 04:11:

So I reckon you’re never too old to start.

Megan Porta 04:15:

So what prompted you to start at 55?

Jacqueline Debono 04:17:

I’d had an idea about, okay, I was really madly in love with the whole Italian pasta thing and how many different pasta shapes there are, how many recipes. And I had originally thought about just doing a Facebook page, but my eldest son, who’s a website designer or was said, if you’re going to do it, do a website, do a blog so that if it’s successful, you know, you can maybe build a business out of it.

Megan Porta 04:45:

Smart. Glad you consulted your son.

Jacqueline Debono 04:48:

Yeah, so, and actually he was living with me at the time, and so he actually set it all up, you know, got the do I knew nothing, nothing . Oh, I mean, I was really like in kindergarten, blogging pre-K. And had no idea about anything, but he set up, you know, the website and then it’s been a learning process ever since.

Megan Porta 05:19:

Oh, great. I love that. So that kind of leads into your blog. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Jacqueline Debono 05:25:

Yeah, so as I mentioned, the subject or the niche is only Italian pasta and only authentic Italian pasta here in Italy, unlike overseas, there are hundreds of different types of pasta shapes and thousands of recipes, most of which don’t make it on the sort of international scene, but the country is really rich with pasta recipes and shapes. So I decided I want to share that with other people because it’s pretty amazing. And so that’s how the pasta project was born. Originally, I had this goal to try to make every single type of pasta that exists in Italy and make recipes for them. But I’m still way behind that, because I have about 80 something different types of pasta on my blog, but they’re actually close to 350.

Megan Porta 06:26:

Okay. Wow. I am just looking at it. It’s so beautiful. You have so many just delicious looking dishes here. Oh my goodness. So do you cater to more like easy or is it just based on something else?

Jacqueline Debono 06:43:

It’s a combination. Obviously. The thing with Italian recipes in general is that they are very simple. That’s a characteristic of real Italian cooking. So very good ingredients combined a few together and cooked very simply. So there are lots of simple Italian pasta recipes. Obviously there are some more complex, but in general, Italian food is not rich. Interesting. It’s simple. And it’s based on the diet of the rural, mostly the rural population in the past.

Megan Porta 07:20:

Yeah. And quality ingredients I assume.

Jacqueline Debono 07:23:

Yeah.

Megan Porta 07:24:

And you’re in Italy, so you’re just, right off the bat, you’re more authentic than anyone.

Jacqueline Debono 07:30:

Yeah, because I’m here and I can get all the ingredients. And I do a lot of research in Italian because I speak Italian, and so I’m able to access recipes and information that obviously non-Italian speakers can’t.

Megan Porta 07:48:

Right. Yeah, that’s great. I love it. Okay. An authentic Italian blogger. That’s so cool.

Jacqueline Debono 07:54:

But I’m not Italian.

Megan Porta 07:55:

But you are there, correct? You live in Italy, yes?

Jacqueline Debono 08:00:

20 years now.

Megan Porta 08:01:

Right. That’s great. So how did you get interested in email newsletters? I guess, how did you get to the point where you thought it was really important to invest your time in email and yeah, just tell us about that.

Jacqueline Debono 08:15:

Okay, so originally I did what many bloggers do, and I just had a kind of automated latest recipes email that went out, but it didn’t seem to do very much. And actually it was a suggestion, I think it was my husband’s suggestion, why don’t I write more, you know, maybe people will be interested in life in Italy. And so I started doing that almost four years ago now, and the interest escalated, you know, people really liked the newsletters and they write to me. And so it’s a format that’s really worked.

Megan Porta 08:57:

So people started responding and saying, you know, like responding to whatever you were asking or writing about.

Jacqueline Debono 09:03:

Exactly.

Megan Porta 09:04:

And you took that as a prompt, like, oh, they actually want more.

Jacqueline Debono 09:08:

Yeah. And also I’m able to track the, for example, my email goes out on a Friday at four o’clock Italy time, and my traffic always peaks on Friday afternoons.

Megan Porta 09:21:

Oh, interesting.

Jacqueline Debono 09:23:

Yeah. And I can also track in the links, because then I, it creates a lot of email links that I can track in Google Analytics as well, and in linking.

Megan Porta 09:35:

Okay. So you saw that your traffic was going up, that people were really responding to your newsletters. Where did you go from there then?

Jacqueline Debono 09:40:

I guess I, what I needed is another way really to build the subscriber list because obviously the people who were already subscribing through a simple subscription form on the site, what seemed to be happy. But I wanted more subscribers. And so I moved from, I think it was MailChimp to Flodesk, which I know you like. And then I also, a couple of years ago, I put the MediaVine subscribe widget on the site. So that really generates a lot of subscribers and also obviously talking on email and Facebook and other social media. So I had to grow my subscribers and they’ve grown a lot.

Megan Porta 10:33:

Oh good. Okay. So how much have they grown over the years? Do you mind sharing?

Jacqueline Debono 10:36:

Not at all, except I don’t remember really how many there were when I started this change.

Megan Porta 10:43:

Well, zero at some point,

Jacqueline Debono 10:45:

Well, zero. Yeah. But the beginning it was, as I said, it was just an automated latest recipes thing. Now they’re close to 10,000.

Megan Porta 10:54:

Okay. That’s great. Okay, so five years you’ve been logging approximately? Correct?

Jacqueline Debono 11:01:

Doing these kind of emails, 2024 will be four years. So I started in 2020 doing email newsletters in with this format. And from practically very little, it’s now nearly 10,000.

Megan Porta 11:16:

Okay. That’s awesome. Okay, so let’s get into some nitty gritty details now. So after you started doing the latest recipes emails, what kind of format or what kind of topics did you cover in the following newsletters?

Jacqueline Debono 11:31:

Okay, so the following newsletters are all obviously related to Italy, life in Italy, culture, holidays, you know, the topic is always Italian, but not necessarily pasta. So at the moment, I’m writing for this week Italian Christmas markets, or it might be a place that we visited. We recently went to the Alba White Truffle Fair in Piamonte, which is like the biggest white truffle fair in the world, because most white truffles only come from Piamonte. And so I wrote about that trip. So it can be, you know, whatever, whatever inspires me or whatever I’ve done. But it has to be related obviously to Italy and Italian food and life.

Megan Porta 12:21:

So how do you feel like this could translate to other niches? Because this, I think it might be hard in some niches, there aren’t, you know, holidays and markets and that sort of thing for every niche or trips, you know. So how could this translate to like a gluten-free niche, for example?

Jacqueline Debono 12:41:

I think the thing with the newsletters is nowadays, you know, blog posts are not so personal. In fact, you know, they’ve changed from putting stories about yourself on recipe posts. So you can use a newsletter to be more personal. And if you’re talking about recipes, you can talk about things that you’ve maybe fails that you had. Or why you did that recipe. And I’m sure everybody has some interesting aspect of their life or the place that they live that can in some way be connected to their niche.

Megan Porta 13:20:

Yeah, I like your idea about fails. People love fails, people love seeing real life. Right?

Jacqueline Debono 13:27:

Yeah. Like the problems I had. With this recipe and you know, just make it more personal because now our blogs are no longer personal. They tell you, they don’t want to hear about, you know, what your grandmother used to do or what you did on Sunday.

Megan Porta 13:43:

Right. Yeah. This is an opportunity.

Jacqueline Debono 13:46:

So you can put that into the newsletter and make it more personal.

Megan Porta 13:52:

Absolutely. Okay. So how often do you send out these more personal newsletter emails?

Jacqueline Debono 13:58:

I do two twice a week. But the second is a repeat of the first sent to people who didn’t open it.

Megan Porta 14:07:

Ah, okay. I’ve heard of people that do that. I’ve never tried it. I’m assuming it works well.

Jacqueline Debono 14:13:

Yeah, it works.

Megan Porta 14:15:

Okay.

Jacqueline Debono 14:15:

Yeah. So you can set it up. I set it up in Flodesk. And so the first email always goes out on a Friday afternoon and the repeat goes out on a Tuesday morning and it’s basically, you know, just saying you perhaps you didn’t see this or you may have missed this.

Megan Porta 14:37:

Okay. And do you say that in the subject line, or do you just change the subject?

Jacqueline Debono 14:40:

In the subject line? No, no, in the subject line. You may have missed this. Yeah.

Megan Porta 14:45:

And then what is your open rate for both of those emails?

Jacqueline Debono 14:49:

On average together? About between 45 and 50%.

Megan Porta 14:55:

Okay. That’s great. Wow.

Jacqueline Debono 14:57:

Yeah, that’s good. And despite the fact that the numbers are growing, the open rate remains the same.

Megan Porta 15:04:

Okay. And then how do you, I guess, market to your subscribers or sell to them? Do you have products? Do you just offer up your URLs for traffic? What do you offer them in addition to just your emails?

Jacqueline Debono 15:18:

Well, the first thing is to inspire people to subscribe. I do a collection of eBooks, PDF format that they can download of 12 recipes for each Italian pasta recipes for each Italian region. But I only do two or three a year. So I’m at the moment on 12, but, or 13, I’m about to do 13. But there are 20 Italian regions. So it means if they want to have the whole collection, they have to stay on because when they initially subscribe, they get the ones that have been published so far. But if they want the complete collection, they’re going to have to wait, you know, for future, future eBooks.

Megan Porta 16:05:

That’s really smart.

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Megan Porta 17:40:

I love that idea. There’s someone in my mastermind group currently who is doing something similar. She’s setting it up right now, setting up more of a collection rather than just like a one-off book just to keep people.

Jacqueline Debono 17:52:

Exactly. Most bloggers have a one-off download. Book. And so people, once they have that, they don’t have so much incentive to stay if you know, they’re not that interested in all the recipes or things that you’re doing. So a collection is good.

Megan Porta 18:10:

Right? It creates some intrigue, like, okay, if you like this, then keep coming. Here’s the breadcrumbs. Follow me.

Jacqueline Debono 18:18:

Yeah. And I do have some people who seem to miss the welcome email and they write to me and they say, oh, but I don’t have all the others. And so we send them. All the ones that have been published so far.

Megan Porta 18:32:

Gotcha. Okay. Okay, so you use Flodesk and do you feel like that’s a good option for everything you need?

Jacqueline Debono 18:41:

I think on the whole, yes. I have to confess, I do have a VA who, or who uses it instead of myself most of the time. So I send her the texts and photos for the newsletter and she puts it together. And she also sends out the eBooks and the Welcome newsletter. The only thing I have a problem with Flodesk is that the subscribers that come in through the MediaVine subscribe are not automatic. You have to use another tool for them to be automatically transferred to Flodesk. I think it’s, it’s called Zapier or something, because I don’t use it, but I do it manually, which is not a big deal. I can download the subscribers through MediaVine’s Grow, and then I upload it to Flodesk. You just download the CSV of the subscribers and upload it to Flodesk. But of course, it would be great if it was automatic. But I haven’t set up this intermediate tool. Right. I’m not sure how to do that.

Megan Porta 19:52:

Yeah. All right, cool. So how do you get your subscribers in? I know you mentioned earlier you do a little bit of social media and you have that MediaVine widget. Are there other ways that you pull people into your world?

Jacqueline Debono 20:06:

Not really. I mean, people who visit the site there, there’s two, a double subscription form thing and on social media, and that’s about it really. There are new subscribers every week. So the majority come through the MediaVine Grow, subscribe widget.

Megan Porta 20:27:

Okay. And then on social media, how do you go about getting subscribers from there? Is it mostly Facebook, Instagram?

Jacqueline Debono 20:35:

Facebook mostly. I don’t have a lot of, I mean, I don’t spend a lot of time on Instagram because it doesn’t bring you traffic. You know, you, at least at my level, you can’t click through to the site. And Facebook, I have a lot of success with, I have 20, I can’t remember, 27,000 followers on Facebook. So I can, you know, occasionally I don’t pin the thing, but occasionally I put up a post encouraging people to sign up.

Megan Porta 21:11:

So yeah, talk to us about that. What do you say in your post to just like, do you talk about your eBooks? Do you have other strategies?

Jacqueline Debono 21:20:

The same as I do more or less on the Grow widget thing is just to say, if you are interested in learning more about my life in Italy and would like to receive, you know, free eBooks of regional pasta recipes, go and sign up to my newsletter.

Megan Porta 21:40:

Okay. Yeah. And then your eBooks get traction and I love your strategy with that. Does this also translate to a lot of extra traffic on your blog?

Jacqueline Debono 21:49:

In what sense?

Megan Porta 21:50:

Oh, just your whole email strategy. Like having more subscribers?

Jacqueline Debono 21:54:

Yes. I get, as I said, I get a lot of traffic from my blog. The thing with newsletter subscribers is that in general, they really are your most loyal followers. And they write comments on the recipes and they write emails to me. And so you have a kind of a group of people that you can inform about your latest recipes or Roundup. I always put a latest recipe thing on the newsletter and I may sometimes put links to recipes that are relevant to the subject of the newsletter. So for example, the newsletter I did about the Truffle Fair, I put links to pasta recipes from Piemonte. So it’s not just the latest recipes. I also put links to recipes that are relevant to the subject of the newsletter. So that encourages them to click through and they do click through.

Megan Porta 22:54:

Good. So do you have any thoughts about how your email is going to evolve in the future? Is anything going to change? Are you going to keep doing the same thing?

Jacqueline Debono 23:04:

I think for the foreseeable future, more or less the same thing. What I would like to do is try to monetize it better because although it’s a generator of traffic, it’s not necessarily a generator of income. So I’d like to look at ways in how I could monetize the, the newsletters. I’m thinking about making eBooks of other roundups and then offering them for a price to subscribers. Funnily enough, a lot of subscribers have become big fans of my Sicilian husband, because I mention him, you know, I do mention personal stuff. They also like my dog. And he’s a fantastic cook, particularly for seafood. And often I write about things that we’ve been cooking at home, for example. It’s not pasta necessarily. And I have subscribers who write to me and say, so how does Salvatore make his risotto? Or how does he make, and I’m not putting those recipes on my blog because I really want to stick to my niche. Yeah. But I’m thinking of doing some eBooks of his recipes.

Megan Porta 24:24:

Oh my gosh, that is such a great idea. I love that. It’s like, yeah, keeping his stuff off your blog I think is actually really smart.

Jacqueline Debono 24:33:

Yeah. Because, you know, he, it’s pasta, but he, he’s an amazing, he cooks seafood. He cooks risotto, he cooks, you know, he’s such a fantastic cook and a lot of bloggers, you know, seem to like him. Not bloggers, subscribers. And so that was another idea to make eBooks of his recipes.

Megan Porta 24:54:

Brilliant. I hope you do that. I think that’s so smart.

Jacqueline Debono 24:57:

Yeah. So, and maybe more affiliate links. I mean, I don’t want to put a lot of ads on it. I know you can put ads on newsletters, but I think I have enough on my site. I don’t want to really do that. But I do link, I have a shop page on the site and I have two pasta cookbooks that I self-published. So I always mention those in the newsletters. And there’s a link to the shop page, which also has some kind of traditional Italian pasta making tools as well as my cookbooks. And quite a lot of subscribers do buy the cookbooks. I just had an email this morning, funnily enough, from a woman who said that she loves the emails and the recipes and she bought my cookbooks.

Megan Porta 25:48:

Oh, great.

Jacqueline Debono 25:49:

Yeah. So the, the newsletter is actually my main marketplace for my cookbooks.

Megan Porta 25:57:

So would you say that your email subscribers are just really intrigued by your life? Like that’s how you pulled them in and now you have this opportunity to sell to them and to lead them to your blog and just generate more interest. Like maybe your husband cookbook thing. Is that kind of, does that capture everything do you think, pretty well.

Jacqueline Debono 26:22:

Well, I think that the important thing is that a, most of the subscribers, I would say, I mean, I haven’t met them. I’ve met a few, I’ve had Americans come to Italy and contact me and I’ve met them, but the majority are either Italian Americans or people who have visited Italy, love Italy, or love Italian food. And so I have an advantage because I appeal to their passion, if you like, or their family history. So I think you could find that in any niche. You know, you have to appeal to the people in who are interested in that topic.

Megan Porta 27:06:

Yeah. That’s the kind of the key right there, right. Finding what the appeal is and finding out how to captivate them and keep them in the circle, I guess, so to speak.

Jacqueline Debono 27:17:

Exactly. I’m lucky because Italy of course is rich with so many things that anyone who loves Italy or Italian food is going to be interested in. But I’m sure there are other topics or other themes that other niches can take advantage of.

Megan Porta 27:37:

Yeah. All right. Is there anything that you feel like we should touch on Jackie, before we start saying goodbye about email newsletters?

Jacqueline Debono 27:44:

Yeah, I think some of the things that I had thought of, we’ve touched on. The good thing about the newsletters is that a lot of the topics for me anyway, are evergreen. So when I write about Christmas or Easter or you know, various holidays and traditions, I reuse those newsletters so you don’t have to write something new every single time. I reuse newsletters. So around Christmas time and holidays, I reworked the contents a little, you know, but the chances of people understanding that that is, I mean, firstly, many people would not have read that newsletter because it’s, the original one is two years old and I have many more subscribers in those two years. And so you have a lot of evergreen topics that you can rework. You don’t have to make it rewrite and something new every week. And you can also link those evergreen topics to recipes. So obviously if I talk about Christmas on my site, there are Christmas pasta recipes or Easter pasta recipes or roundups. So a lot of that evergreen content can also send new visitors to your old roundups or my old roundups.

Megan Porta 29:05:

This is something that I feel like food bloggers are not great at. I speaking for me personally Okay. Refining and reusing our content that we create. There’s so much opportunity to take what we’ve already created and just reuse it. Right?

Jacqueline Debono 29:19:

Yeah, exactly. I mean, basically recipes are evergreen. You know, they don’t go out fashion. So as long as we, so in that sense food bloggers are lucky because a lot of bloggers blog about things that are not relevant one year down the road, or two or three food bloggers have that advantage that their content is evergreen and all they have to do really is update for SEO purposes, but the content they can, you can use forever.

Megan Porta 29:51:

Right. That’s very inspiring. Thank you for all of this, Jacqui. What a pleasure to chat with you today. All the way from Italy to Minnesota.

Jacqueline Debono 29:59:

Yeah, from cold Verona, because it’s a little chilly here now.

Megan Porta 30:04:

Well same here. It’s eight degrees Fahrenheit today. We woke up and we were like, oh gosh, my son put on shorts this morning. And I was like, are you sure? Oh, he’s crazy. Yeah. Well, thank you for joining us. We really appreciate all of this information you shared with us. Thank you so much for being here. Do you have either a favorite quote or words of inspiration to leave us with?

Jacqueline Debono 30:27:

Not really sure about a favorite quote. I hadn’t, I hadn’t thought about it before. But I think for me, the, what I love most about the newsletters is the opportunity to build a relationship with people. And as I mentioned before, I’ve even met subscribers from America, you know, so these are real relationships that is, would be difficult to establish in other ways.

Megan Porta 30:53:

Just waiting for you.

Jacqueline Debono 30:55:

Yeah. It’s really amazing. It amazes me sometimes they write to me. It’s really nice.

Megan Porta 31:02:

That’s so great. Thank you for sharing all of that. We’ll put together a show notes page for you. If you want to head to Jacqui show notes page, go look at eatblogtalk.com/thepastaproject. Tell everyone where they can find you, Jacqui.

Jacqueline Debono 31:18:

So obviously the, the main blog is the-pasta-project.com, Pasta Project on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest.

Megan Porta 31:39:

Yeah, everyone go check out Jacqui, all those places. Thank you so much for being here, and thank you for listening food bloggers. I will see you in the next episode. 

Outro 31:51:

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Eat Blog Talk. Please share this episode with a friend who would benefit from tuning in. I will see you next time.


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✍️ Reach out to connect with Heather Eberle, a copywriter for food bloggers. As much as you enjoy your business, maybe writing or marketing isn’t your cup of tea. Maybe you’d rather spend more time in the kitchen and less time on your laptop. Heather is here to clear your plate!

Megan
Megan

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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