Carol Borchardt is one of APPCA’s greatest success stories. She’s an in-demand personal chef, who dug deep and expanded her talents to include writing and food photography. In fact, she’s helped us with gorgeous photos for our Facebook page and upcoming new and improved website. Carol understands the value of smart marketing through photography and social media. And she’s melded both to launch the delightful food blog, From a Chef’s Kitchen. I asked her to tell the story of how she got into blogging and how she’s turned it a strategic way to promote her business and even add new revenues.

Carol Borchardt

We eat with our eyes first and everyone loves to look at beautiful images of mouthwatering food. I have always been fascinated with food photography and all that goes into producing those beautiful images. However, it wasn’t too long ago, whenever I attempted to photograph something, the result was nothing short of awful.

As part of reaching out and getting to know people in my local food community to promote my personal chef business, I got to know one of the food columnists at our local daily newspaper. She asked me to help with a project, loved the recipes I submitted for it and subsequently asked me to do a biweekly food column containing a recipe and write-up for the newspaper. I had never done food writing before but thought it was pretty cool to be a personal chef and newspaper columnist. I would get paid and the newspaper would allow me to mention my personal chef business at the end of every column so I figured…why not.

As part of the arrangement, the newspaper was going to send a photographer out for each column. However, with my cooking schedule and where I live, scheduling cooking, styling and photographing the dish was nearly impossible. After two complicated sessions, I decided to take the photo myself. The photo was not very good, however it passed and the newspaper was happy to let me take all photos after that.

Suddenly, I was a food photographer too, which was pretty interesting because my knowledge of photography in general was quite limited.

Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

Because of my new sideline gig as a biweekly columnist for the local newspaper, I wanted to learn more about food writing. I came across Dianne Jacob’s book, Will Write For Food. Her book is a great resource for anyone interested in writing a cookbook, doing freelance food writing and, of course, food blogging, which is how I became intrigued with it. It intrigued me because I love to create new recipes and being able to share them with the world seemed so rewarding. However, my personal chef business kept me extremely busy so I wasn’t able to delve into the process.

Then, two years ago, I was sidelined from my personal chef business due to an injury. I tripped and fell in a client’s kitchen, fracturing my right kneecap. I couldn’t work or drive for six weeks. It was during this time I realized that someday my personal chef career could end for any number of reasons. Having already experienced severe office job burnout prior to becoming a personal chef, I knew there was no way I could ever go back to work in an office. I felt I needed to have something to fall back on that I was passionate about.

Oven Roasted Artichokes with Roasted Garlic Butter

Oven Roasted Artichokes with Roasted Garlic Butter

That’s when my “real” food blog was born. I say “real,” because I had a small blog section on my business website, but it got very little traffic. I knew absolutely nothing about how to promote it; I didn’t even have a Facebook account until a few months before my accident. My food photography had progressed to a point where FoodGawker.com and Tastespotting.com were accepting some of my photographs so I received traffic there. Because their editors carefully curate those sites, having photos accepted was very encouraging to me.

Warm Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad (8)

This salad took me four afternoons / four attempts to photograph it in a way I was happy with it. FoodGawker put in on their Instagram feed last Monday (117,000 followers!) and I nearly cried.

So, with tons of time on my hands during my recovery period, I decided if I were ever going to delve into food blogging, it was the time to do it.

Because a food blog is nothing without great photography, I first immersed myself into learning everything I possibly could to improve my photography through reading books, watching online video workshops and by studying great food photography.

I then researched how to start a food blog and looked at hundreds of food blogs.

I knew nothing about social media but knew I had to learn it in a hurry because it’s one of the main ways to promote a food blog. Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, StumbleUpon, and Google+ were all mysteries to me so I had to start figuring them out.

 I knew nothing about WordPress (a popular blogging platform), website design or search engine optimization (SEO). For my personal chef business website, I had always let pros at APPCA do it. This, however, I was determined to learn from the ground up, and it wasn’t long before I learned what the “white screen of death” was.

Grilled Citrus Chili Shrimp with Mango Pineapple Salsa

I also knew nothing about how to make money with a food blog—I just knew people did it because they published their income and traffic reports.

But, as with all journeys, they begin with the first step. My original food blog concept, which was based around my love for cookbooks, seemed to confuse everyone. Most people thought all I did was rework cookbook recipes. (Branding experts advise having a clear, definable focus.) The concept worked for Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks fame, but it wasn’t going so well for me. Three graphic designers couldn’t come up with the right logo for me so I worked until midnight many nights trying to design one myself on professional software I knew nothing about.

After hitting numerous roadblocks, I decided to rebrand last summer and change my name to what it is now—From A Chef’s Kitchen. I knew I was doing the right thing when one of the first people I told about the change said, “Now THAT tells me who you are!” I tried a graphic designer one more time and my logo came together quickly and painlessly.

Fast forward to today and I’m having a ball. I absolutely love the process of recipe development, styling the dish and nailing a mouthwatering shot. I love being able to share my recipes and passion for food with the world. It’s very gratifying receiving comments from readers who made a recipe and it’s become their new family favorite.

Through social media and particularly Pinterest, my traffic is growing nicely. Many of my posts are written from my viewpoint as a personal chef. I’m also using my food blog to help promote APPCA and personal chefs in general with my monthly “Menus” posting.

I don’t plan on giving up my personal chef business any time soon, but ways I’m turning my blog into a secondary business is through:

  • Ad revenue
  • Affiliate marketing (commissions are earned by helping to sell other people’s products)
  • Recipe development / sponsored posts for companies. So far, I’ve worked with Calphalon, Weight Watchers and Australis Barrmundi for compensation. However, companies such as Oxo and NordicWare send products for review and I’ve also been able to add some free cookbooks to my collection.

Many food bloggers develop a product to sell such as a self-published cookbook, other food-related book or meal plans. I would like to do that someday. I hope to start doing freelance food photography work and am looking into becoming a certified food stylist.

Cuban Chicken Black Bean and Quinoa Bowls

Cuban Chicken Black Bean and Quinoa Bowls

I’m still a little shy about putting myself out there with my recipes and photography but I’m growing more and more confident about it each day.

If you enjoy photography, writing and recipe development, I highly encourage you to look into food blogging. As a mentor of mine in the food blogosphere said, “Start, and then learn.” That’s what I did!

Have you been wanting to start a blog? What’s been holding you back? If you have one, please add your link in the comment section below and describe what you’re doing.

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

Dom Petrov Ossetra and Hackleback (r)1

With the New Year upon us this week, we’re facing the inevitable feast of resolutions. Well, we don’t want to be left out of the fun. And we’re always keen on trying to help our members thrive in business and life. So, we’ve come up with strategies that we believe will help with both. And, if you’ve got any to suggest, please include them in the comments section below!

So, in the spirit of stepping right up to the future, generating new business, keeping current business, and just all around embracing life, we hope you will:

1. Jump start your business marketing in innovative ways that attract the people you want to work with. Dive into social media and really engage people with a mix of what you’re doing, useful information about food/diet, and showcasing what you admire in others (generosity is a winning character trait on social media that attracts others). Join professional or volunteer organizations that will help you network beyond your usual circle. Contact us about guest blogging in this space or to ask Caron Golden to write a feature post about you. Let us know your area of expertise so we can call on you as a resource. (And then promote the heck out of the published piece!) It all helps you get your name out into the wider world!

2. Refresh your website and be sure to include the most important information about yourself, specifically your name, service geographies, and contact info (you’d be surprised at how many people seem to keep this a secret). Keep your site up to date and informative. Brag on yourself! And, be sure to get someone else to give new copy a once over to catch typos and grammatical mistakes. Make it as professional as you can.

Chef Carol Borchardt, who is generous with business advice and photography expertise

Chef Carol Borchardt, who is generous with business advice and photography expertise

3. Improve your food photography. The difference between a mediocre photo and a mouthwatering one is often as simple as lighting and focus. Don’t display muddy shots of brown food. Make every dish glow. That’s what you’re selling! Take a photography class. Buy a food photography book like Plate to Pixel by Helene Dujardin and study it. Read our past posts by member/photographer Carol Borchardt and learn from them. Study photos you admire and learn how to style from them.

4. Focus on learning a couple of new cooking techniques or a new cuisine to reignite your passion for cooking and so you can introduce new recipes into your client repertoire.

5. Conduct regular client assessments with longtime clients–perhaps every six months. It’s good to have ongoing conversations about where they are in their health, diet, and preferences. It’s also an opportunity for you to introduce new dishes to them and encourage them to give you referrals.

6. Set aside a budget to go out to eat at new restaurants, ethnic restaurants, anything that gets you out of your rut so you experience new tastes and new approaches to food and cooking. It’s research and it’s fun.

7. Get out and ask questions. What do people need in your community that you can provide? Does a community college need cooking teachers? Does a cooking school need someone who is able to teach kids or elders or people with specific dietary issues in which you have expertise? Does a local business need a regular caterer? Does a dietician with special needs clients need a chef to refer them to?

All editions of The Professional Chef

8. Identify gaps or deficiencies in how you run your business and find ways to improve them so that you’re more efficient and can earn more money. We have plenty of materials and software that address the business of being a personal chef. I can help and if you need other tools, we can direct you to them. Or come to San Diego and take a Personal Chef Seminar to recalibrate your business. Or take a class to learn a new skill set (in accounting, marketing, public speaking) at your local community college.

 

photo 2

 

9. Add a new related revenue stream to your business. This can range from teaching cooking classes and doing food demos at events to providing small markets with take0ut foods or catering meetings for businesses.

10. Set aside time once a month to get out of the kitchen and away from your business and do something fun. We all need to clear our heads and just enjoy life. We chose this industry so we could earn a living doing what we love on our terms. Set your priorities so you can lead a balanced life and be with those who are important to you.

January is traditionally a time for activating a new approach to life. We may not need to diet or exercise more, but who couldn’t  improve on what we already do well or simply learn something new that will enhance our business or life?

With the economy improving, 2015 is bound to be a terrific year! What can you do for yourself and your family to fulfill that promise?

Dennis and I wish you a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

What are you planning on doing to make 2015 a banner year?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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