This is the fifth post in our series on Blog Business Models.
When you think of online training as a blogging business model, cookery classes may not be the first topic that springs to mind.
But Jules Clancy of The Stone Soup has created a successful cooking class business around her food blog.
Hi Jules. First up, can you share a bit of your history with us? How did you get into blogging?
My background is in food science. I used design chocolate biscuits for a living—for Australia’s largest biscuit manufacturer.
I love everything to do with food, so it was only natural that after getting addicted to reading food blogs, I took the leap to starting my own.
Your blog supports online training product offerings. Did you develop the blog first, and then adopt that business model, or develop the business first, then build the blog?
It was blog first for me. I had no idea where blogging would lead me, or that it was even possible to use a blog to make money online. It wasn’t until I’d been blogging for a few years that I came across the idea of turning a blog into a business.
And at what point did online cooking classes appear as an ideal product idea? Did you always think that that might be the way to go, or did you need to be convinced of the model’s viability first?
It wasn’t until I saw a class on the A-List Blogging Bootcamps called something like “Create Courses that Sell” that I even had the idea. But as soon as I had that “a-ha” moment, I decided to give it a shot.
Cooking is something that works really well on TV and video, so I figured it would translate well into a class format. (Although if we could get someone to invent ‘scratch and sniff’ video that would be even better!)
Ultimately, it was an organic evolution of my blog—that was just how it happened. There was no grand (or evil!) master plan.
Great. So in what ways does blogging support your training offerings?
Primarily, my blog attracts customers to buy my ebooks and my online cooking classes. It’s a way of developing a relationship with my readers to turn them into buyers.
That being said, my blog also works as an online business card. I have a book coming out next year because of my blog—my publisher discovered Stonesoup and contacted me about doing a book. It also works for speaking gigs, and I’ve done a bit of freelance writing based on contacts from my blogging.
What kinds of challenges do you face in using your blog to build your business?
At the moment, my biggest challenge is moving away from making most of my money when I launch a new cooking class to a more continuous (and sustainable) model. I haven’t figured out how I’m going to do it, but I think building a process with email marketing at the centre will be part of the solution.
I’m also struggling with conversions. For the amount of readers and traffic I get, I don’t think I’m doing a good job of turning them into paying customers.
So what converts best for you: your ebook or your courses? Do you think the blog reading marketplace is saturated with certain format offerings?
In terms of overall revenue, about 50% of my income comes from ebooks and 50% from courses. So even though ebooks are cheaper and convert better, the total income is about the same as the higher priced classes.
In terms of saturation, I think there’s always a market for high-quality products that solve real problems for people, regardless of the offering format.
You mention price. How did you work out how to price your classes?
Pricing is something I’m still experimenting with. At the beginning, I thought about what other classes cost, then considered what I thought I’d be prepared to pay for a course, and took it from there.
What are the key elements that have helped you get to where you are with your blog?
Passion! It’s a bit of a cliche, but in my case it’s totally true. I love cooking, writing about food, and taking photographs of what I cook. I can’t imagine doing anything else and enjoying it as much as I love working on my blog and my business.
Consistency has also been key. I promised myself when I started I would publish at least once every week and I’ve been doing that right from the beginning.
The quest for continuous improvement is also important. I’m not a perfectionist by any standards but I’m always thinking of how I can do things better.
That’s interesting. How do you continuously improve your courses? What’s involved in that process—from a content perspective, but also from product integrity and delivery viewpoints?
I ask my students for feedback. After I run a major class I do a short survey using Survey Monkey to collect testimonials and also get feedback on what worked and what needs improvement.
I’ve also started running a Poll Daddy quiz on my cooking school site so my students actually vote for the topic of the next class. Actually, you’ve just reminded me I’ve been meaning to set up a feedback option on the site using something like uservoice.com so it’s really easy for my students to give feedback, get help, and make suggestions.
Cooking’s a very cluttered niche. What’s unique about the way you’ve developed your offering?
I’m all about simplicity. All my recipes have only five ingredients and deliver big when it comes to flavour and healthiness.
And have you carried that philosophy through to your cooking classes?
Absolutely! Simplicity is really a core philosophy of my life, so even if I wanted to do a “fancy” or “complicated” cooking class, I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Right. So you mentioned Survey Monkey and uservoice, but what other tools or services do you rely on as you develop your business?
- Aweber for email list management
- Clickbank for selling products and their affiliate network
- Visual Website Optimizer for split testing (although I’ve had a few issues recently with them).
What tools do you use specifically in developing and delivering your courses?
At first I had a little flip video camera for making my videos but I’ve since upgraded to a Nikon D7000 for recording video. And I just use imovie for editing videos. And then in terms of my membership site management, it’s a WordPress blog using the plugin Wishlist Member.
And how did you go about researching and sourcing those tools?
I’m very lazy when it comes to researching things like that, and I’m pretty sure the flip cam and Wishlist Member were what was recommended in the “Create Courses that Sell” class I took.
What advice, tips, and insider secrets would you give to someone who was just starting out with a blog business model based around selling training?
Get your own product out there sooner rather than later. I made the mistake of quitting my job and then not launching my first product for seven months, so there was no income coming in.
That was fine, but I would have been much better off to get something out there and start learning how to market etc. sooner rather than later. It’s definitely one of those things that you can only get really great at if you keep trying different things.
Interesting! So what does the future hold for Stonesoup and your course offering?
Hopefully lots more sales! And I’d like to have things more automated so I can step back a bit and spend more time in my veggie garden and less time in front of a computer screen.