Originally launched as a place to brag to her friends and family that she learned to cook, Gaby Dalkin started her food blog What’s Gaby Cooking back in 2009. Fast forward to present day, there are over 1100 recipes on the site, and it garners a couple hundred thousand visitors per month. It’s evident her side project has exploded, birthed a personal brand, and became the foundation or her media empire.
After graduating from college, Dalkin decided to attend a culinary school where in her second week she landed a job as a private chef. A few years of working for families in the Los Angeles area, Dalkin took the leap to focus on What’s Gaby Cooking full-time.
Now, as a cookbook author, recipe developer, food blogger, and someone with a solid personal brand, we caught up with Dalkin to ask about her journey, lessons, and advice for those wanting to carve a niche for themselves.
With a massive platform built and personal brand, what’s been a major factor in your success today?
I think two things have really helped me get What’s Gaby Cooking to where it is today, one, finding my voice. When I first started my blog, I really had no idea what I stood for, and there wasn’t any real brand identity. About 4 years into What’s Gaby Cooking, I invested some time and money into really honing in on my brand, and that’s been completely worthwhile. And number two, being real. We live in a world where we are inundated with perfect pictures of everyone’s lives, and I think it’s refreshing to let people into the behind the scenes of it all where it might not be quite so polished and perfect!
At what point after launching What’s Gaby Cooking did you realize you had a full-blown business in the making?
It was a super slow roll. I was working as a private chef and doing What’s Gaby Cooking from 2009 – 2013. In 2013, my first cookbook came out, and I walked away from private cheffing entirely to see if What’s Gaby Cooking was viable as a business. The first year or so was a roller coaster, but in 2014 I really hit my stride and started to feel confident that this could be a full-time business.
How did you make your first dollar from the platform and what was that like for you?
My first dollar was probably from some tiny little sponsored post that I did. I think I made something like $125 and I was pumped. That was a week or two of groceries, and I felt like a baller!
In what ways do you monetize the platform today?
What’s Gaby Cooking is monetized in a variety of ways today. I have a line of products that are sold exclusively at Williams Sonoma, I write cookbooks, I have ads on www.whatsgabycooking.com, I work with brands as a spokesperson, I do sponsored posts on the blog, I host events, I work as a consultant at times, etc.
In the beginning, how did you begin connecting with brands to work with and what was that like?
Remember when Twitter was really cool and everyone would have full blown twitter convos? That’s how the blogging world was when I started, so it was really easy to engage with brands on that platform. As far as working with brands, that has always been one of my favorite parts of my job. It’s awesome to get to tell the story of a brand through my own voice, and I love the creative process that goes into every detail. My background is in business so it’s never been tough to communicate my worth and what I can provide when talking to brands.
What about advice for those with nice size platforms (food blog, social media, etc.) who are ready to start working with brands, how would they go about this today?
Reach out! Shoot them an email, post on their Instagram, send a message on Twitter, you name it, just make the first move. And be picky about what brands you work with. You don’t want to work with a brand that you don’t actually love, so really be strategic in who you reach out to. There’s no faster way to alienate your audience that when they can see you did something just for a quick dollar.
For those looking to build a platform from scratch today, what’s changed from when you started in 2009?
The landscape is totally different now I think. When we all started back in 2009, and before, we all started as a hobby. No one knew you could make money “blogging” as a career, let alone what you could turn your blog into (i.e., products, books, tv shows, etc) so things weren’t quite so competitive so I think it’s harder to start today. You really need to know what you stand for and what message you want to share and make yourself stand out! And be ready to work – it’s a 24/7/365 job. I can’t remember the last time I had a day off!
Similar to above, any tools or resources you recommend for them?
Not so much tools, but I would recommend finding a mentor. I have a few that I can turn to for advice, and they have been instrumental in helping me build my business.
For someone looking to build a platform today, what will be the absolute hardest part for them and how can they overcome this?
I think there are a lot of other creators out there right now, so the hardest thing is to stand out. You really have to be funny or witty or have beautiful photography or be providing incredible content, otherwise, there’s too much other noise.
For anyone who doesn’t know the benefits of building a platform &/or personal brand today, can you give insight to the benefits you’ve experienced?
I’ve built my entire business on my platforms. It started with the blog, then I added Twitter and Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram were next, Snapchat quickly followed and then so did all the opportunities from those platforms. Book deals, product lines, brand work, travel experiences, etc. I am able to support myself and my team because of all my various platforms and the services we provide.
With all that you have going on – running the site, traveling, the new cookbook – how do you manage your time to be the most productive?
I’m all about a to-do list and just crossing things off and moving on. I try and get the most important and pressing things out of the way first thing in the morning before I go work out, and then later in the day, I can keep going. And each day looks different; the only constant is that I go see my trainer every morning! Then it’s anyone’s guess. I could be in the kitchen recipe testing, at a photo shoot, on the road for my book tour, traveling on behalf of a brand, meeting with my management team, etc.
What’s your final piece of advice for the food entrepreneurs we serve?
Never be afraid to ask for something. The worst that can happen is someone says no, and then you move on to the next opportunity. No one is going to just hand you what you want, so don’t be afraid to go out there, ask for it, and make it happen.
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