By Yaro Starak
Mariana Fataccioli is a food, health and wellness blogger who has the impressive claim to fame for having amassed a following of 100,000 people in 6 months on Instagram. She has also pulled off the considerable feat of making $100,000 in her first year of business. At the time of the interview, Mariana’s Instagram following was up to 370,000 people!
This is no small accomplishment given than many bloggers are still winding up to making basic sales in the first year. Mariana explains that most of her income was poured back into her business to continue growing it, so she’s still deep in the trenches working on taking things to the next level.
Mariana grew up with a very entrepreneurial mom. Her mother currently owns and runs three businesses so Mariana is no stranger to the work and hours involved in being an entrepreneur.
Mariana saw how hard her mother worked, some days from 6am to 1am the next morning to manage the business and care for the family. Because of this, Mariana was adamant from the beginning that she wanted to create some kind of systemized business. She wanted something that she could step out of and work on, instead of in, every single day.
Mariana’s background was in the fashion industry so she began her first blog on fashion. Whilst working an internship for Harper’s Bazaar magazine, she found herself managing the other interns within the first three days of starting. By the end of two weeks she had moved ahead so much in her role that she felt she needed to go out on her own rather than continue working for someone else.
Mariana wanted to stretch herself beyond any limits that would be set by being stuck in a prescribed job. Over the next few years she began to find inspiration from her own personal health journey. This became fuel for Mariana’s online business, Skinny Kitchen, as she shared what she was doing on her Instagram and people began to respond and connect with her.
Like many of the entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed, Mariana taught herself how to do everything from searching on Google. If she had her time again, she tells me that she would definitely outsource most of the work rather than try to do it all herself!
I asked Mariana how she grew her massive Instagram following in such a short time. Mariana found the big jump came from other people tagging their friends in her images and asking them to make the food she was sharing in her Instagram photos. She also had a system of using 30 hashtags with 20 regular tags for all of her posts then leaving space for 10 hashtags specific to each individual post.
A significantly powerful element to Mariana’s Instagram success has come from sharing other people’s Instagram posts as well. By doing this, she built a strong community because people kept sharing more and more of her content when she included them in her posts. Because her Instagram following is so strong, this has been the primary traffic source back to her blog.
Within 6 months of blogging, Mariana set up her online store using $3,000 she had saved up. She used Instagram to do market research to see what people would be most likely to buy. Her sleuthing work paid off and she sold out of all her products within the first day and a half of launching her online store!
Nowadays Mariana has such a strong following she has numerous brands approaching her to advertise on her social media channels. She has got a lot of plans to keep expanding her business as the year progresses.
Remember that hashtag is king when growing your Instagram following!
— Mariana Fataccioli
Mariana says to find out what the top 20 hastags are for your industry and just keep posting every few hours, every day. If that sounds overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be new posts all the time. Mariana grew her audience by sharing other people’s posts and creating relationships with them, and reposting some of her own posts at times.
To find out even more tips and get the finer details from our conversation, tune in to the podcast recording or check out the transcript.
Thanks for joining me and enjoy the interview.
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Hi there, this is Yaro Starak and welcome to another Entrepreneur’s Journey podcast episode. Today’s guest is Mariana from Brisbane, my hometown, I have to forgive myself and Mariana for having a bit of a Brisbane fest in several parts of this interview. It’s always a bit of a nostalgia trip for me to talk to a fellow blogger who lives in my hometown.
But, I do recommend you stay put and listen to the entire interview as Mariana shares her very rapid success story in particular using Instagram. Instagram is a very hot marketing tool right now, so if you want to know how to add Instagram to your business or potentially use it as the key traffic source for your new business, your new blog, this is definitely an interview to listen to.
Also, make sure you go to interviewsclub.com and enter your email address to subscribe to my EJ podcast newsletter. That means, I’ll send you every new interview of the EJ podcast I release as soon as it’s published. So, get it first and you’ll also get a series of my very best interviews that I’ve ever done so you’ll always have fresh inspiration, fresh stories from other entrepreneurs and bloggers. That’s interviewsclub.com.
For now, let’s dive in to the interview with Mariana.
Hello, this is Yaro Starak and welcome to an Entrepreneur’s Journey podcast. I’m looking forward to today’s guest because she is from Brisbane and she runs a blog. I’m from Brisbane and I run a blog, so we have a lot in common although my guest today whose name is, I’ve been practicing this, Mariana Fatoccioli, and Mariana runs a food blog called Skinny Kitchen with skinnykitchen.com.au as the website address, so it’s obviously Australian focused but let’s find out all about this.
First of all Mariana, welcome to the podcast.
MARIANA: Thank you for having me. I’m so excited.
YARO: So, we were just talking about your name for a moment there now. It sounds extremely Italian to me.
YARO: You’re telling me you’re not Italian though?
MARIANA: No. I’m South American. It’s just my ancestors migrated from Europe over to South America and landed in Peru, fell in love and reproduced. And then, in 1990, my parents came over from South America because they just weren’t, well, it’s still not in the best shape and they just wanted a better future for us and we moved over with just us and a couple thousand dollars in our pockets and here we are.
YARO: Did you choose Brisbane first? It’s not usually the first people’s choice for Australia, but I am always happy when it is.
MARIANA: Okay, so I’ve asked my parents this question as well because it just seems like Sydney is a logical place to go, but they said that there were a lot of Hispanics over there and they did want to go except my mum hated the cold a lot and just for medical reasons, we came to Brisbane because it’s ridiculous hot.
YARO: [Chuckle] Yes, it sure is. It’s kind of the reason why I’ve left Brisbane at the moment. It’s getting too hot for my liking.
I should probably get us back on topic though and explain why you’re here.
Skinny kitchen is a food blog that Mariana started and had a very successful first year. So she’s known, well, for two things, that the blog itself which Mariana has told me, she made almost $100,000 in her first year of blogging and her Instagram following is impressive as well.
Now, just to get the numbers right on this, your Instagram following, as we talk, is over 370,000 people and within the first six months, you got straight to 100,000. I got about 800 on Instagram so I’m not doing something right in Instagram. I sort of stick to blogging and podcasting, I think. I enjoy it but it’s clearly a big traffic channel for you. So, I’d love to talk about how you started your blog, how you made $100,000 in your first year, how you did Instagram…
But, before we cover all of that, can we go back in time? You’re not that old but you’ve obviously grown up in, I’d like to say it’s an entrepreneurial city but Brisbane is not necessarily that entrepreneurial, but you’ve grown up in a country where you’ve opportunities to do your own thing. So, did you have any other businesses in your brief history before the current one?
MARIANA: Kind of. I have asked them so I wouldn’t really label them businesses. They were just fun things to do in my spare time that would make me money [laughter]. And, I think what mostly impacted this journey is that my mother is entrepreneurial and we just come from a long line of entrepreneurial women who just don’t want to be in jobs and told what to do.
YARO: Right, what did your mum do?
MARIANA: At the moment she has three businesses. She has a sewing school which has been running for about 17 years, and a clothing alteration store that has been running for about eight years and a patternmaking business for small-to-medium designers within Australia. It’s fashion-related.
So, my background is actually in fashion and I’ve worked in her businesses and saw her built it from an idea to what they are now. And so, well pretty much all of my inspiration and my journey has been because of her, seeing how she brought ideas to fruition, but also the way that I am running my business now is I’m trying to make it, I’ve built it from the very first day. I just knew that I didn’t want to be working in a… how do you say it? Where you just… You know, that’s the way, you know, when you’re working in every single day until you die.
YARO: Oh, right okay.
MARIANA: I just wanted to like systemize it, so I can eventually not have to work in the business but I can work on the business. So, I can be the one who makes all the decisions while there are other people working in a 9 to 5 to make it happen.
YARO: Which is why you probably saw your mom do, right, with her businesses?
MARIANA: Yes. When I was younger, I would see her wake up at 6 AM, work all the way through to the next day at 1 AM and just wear herself out and raise kids at the same time and cook and clean. I have no idea how she did it, but I definitely don’t want to replicate it.
YARO: Right, impressive.
YARO: The experience you had in the early days of playing around with ideas was it all online or were you just sort of playing with eBay or playing with an Etsy store or something like that?
MARIANA: I studied fashion and when I first started my first little business, it was just producing like cute little clothes which I would sell at the markets, which went quite well, and I only did that for about 6 months, but I, at the time, was overworking and I just didn’t have enough time to do it, so I just thought I’d leave it until I pick it up later on.
After I finished studying, I started a blog, a fashion blog, and that got quite popular really quickly but I didn’t have–
YARO: How come?
MARIANA: You know what? I think it’s the partnerships and the connections and the networking that I did because I did it quite early on, and so I only did it for about six months and I think it was just a different idea from what was out there.
Normally, fashion blogs are like this is what I am wearing today and this is what brands I’m constantly using, et cetera, et cetera. Whereas mine was more of an intellectual approach to fashion and for example, why headlines this season have gone from ankles to over the knee.
It’s very intellectual because it’s the way that trends are forecasted. They use what’s happening in the global economy with all different environmental factors and financial… or about to sort of eventually have like a visual of this is what fashion is and what is happening with fashion.
YARO: Wow, that sounds like almost like an economic study to find out what people are going to be wearing next.
MARIANA: Well, there are massive companies that are doing this and they make tons and tons of money. And so, big designers are usually looking to those companies as to what forecast are coming and use them as like starting off points for the next collections.
And so, they’re usually doing collections a year, a year and a half in advance. Anyways, very nerdy, but–
YARO: [Chuckle] from a fashion point of view, yes.
MARIANA: Yes. And, and so I started a fashion blog and it was just a very different concept but obviously, bringing it to like mundane terms and I think it’s just because I did like networking with the right PR companies and so, it was when blogging sort of started to be up-and-up in about 2008, 2009 where people were understanding that blogs were, I guess, or bloggers were the way to go in terms of marketing because you could sell your product through an authentic way that people were following and were really engaged with. Whereas, for example, TV, you’re just staring at a screen and you’re completely blank. Your mind is not even working.
And so, if you’re reading a blog or you’re following a person, for example, Kim Kardashian and you’re really engaged with that person, all of a sudden, when they say, “Oh, I use this. This has been what I’ve been wearing this perfume.”
It triggers something inside of you because you have that emotional connection to that person or brand or whatever it is that you at least or incentivize to many think about it or buy it, and it’s, I guess, it’s just another opportunity for friends to create a user experience right from the very beginning where they have a platform to engage with a customer.
YARO: So, you had this success with the fashion blog and it sounds like you know what you’re talking about and there is a whole world of possibility there, but only 6 months. What happened? Why did you stop?
MARIANA: I burnt out. I was overworking and I was still finishing studying and there was just a lot of things going on with me and I–
YARO: So, it was the first one that had to go.
MARIANA: I wasn’t very focused at all just because I get very excited about lots of things. It’s just been a very big entrepreneurial journey for me and to realize who I am and how I function and the best way to manage how I function because it’s not always the most organized. I’m not a very disciplined person but there is a side of me that if I can just layout guidelines for myself, then I am able to focus my energy and my passion and just drive it and have massive success.
YARO: So, it sounds like you discovered that on the flip side of burn out. You discovered what you work best, what sort of business you need to have. Did you go straight to blogging again? Was that the transition or was there something in between the fashion blog and the current food blog?
MARIANA: There wasn’t really. My plan at that point in time was I’d finish my studies for fashion and I wanted to do my masters in fashion in Italy. And so, at that point in time I just thought, “Okay, well, I need to make money.” And so, I started working full-time and saving as much as I could and my, I guess the dream to me at that point in time was to be a fashion editor for one of the bigger magazines– Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar– and I sort of created a path in my mind of this is how I’m going to get there.
And so, whilst I was working full time, I was also using my annual leave to go into internships in Sydney with Harper Bazaar and other magazines. I was only there for two weeks and when I went in, I was just a normal intern and within three days, I ended up being as the manager of old the interns who had been there longer than me. I guess, it’s because I just had a better idea of how things should function and the person above us just wouldn’t be around too much to help out and so, I just stepped up in my first three days and by the beginning of the following week, I was organizing diaries for the stylist who would come and go and by the end of that week, I was going to their appointments and doing signing sessions and I just thought, if I can do this in 2 weeks, what can I do if I had absolutely no limits, and by that, I mean someone above me saying, “This is my role and what I need to do.”
When you’re in a job and you have a job description, a lot of companies don’t allow you to go outside of that because they have a system which I respect, but I’m very much creative and I don’t like to have those limits.
And so, I just thought, “What if I did something for myself? How would that go? What would my future look like?”
YARO: So, you left the internship?
MARIANA: So, I left the internship thinking, “I think that there’s more out there me.” And, my mind is just always going and I always have all these great ideas, all these business ideas and things that I think should be done better and someone needs to go out and do that. And so, by this time, on my health journey for about three years– so this is something that we’ll probably go back to– I got sick while I was studying and–
YARO: Is this part of burn out?
MARIANA: No. It should have been.
YARO: [Chuckle] Okay.
MARIANA: This should have been a good indication that I needed to take care of myself but I just didn’t get it. I just kept going but at this point in time, I was three years into my health journey and I had just realized that it was frustrating and being healthy just felt like a burden only because you go online and there’s lots and lots of information about what healthy is and what it should be and all these diets and everything, but it just got so overwhelming and all these different… Like there’s lots of great bloggers and authors who were creating these amazing recipes
But me, well my experience was, you know, I’d find one recipe by one blogger, another recipe by another blogger, more information on certain topics and I’d just have lots and lots of tabs open, many windows open, and I just thought, “I must not be the only person who’s doing this.”
And, aside from that as well, every time I’d go to buy health foods, I’d need to go to one store for my flour, another store for maybe super food, and another store for something else, and then, the chain supplement store for my protein.
And so, I think at that point in time, I just realized that it’s just too hard. It would be awesome to have everything all in one place. Originally, Skinny Kitchen was just meant to be a recipe, like a big recipe database from lots of contributors all over the world. But, I ended up getting a government grant which required me to be able to monetize the business from day one.
So, I thought well, if that is the case, why don’t I just have an online store and it can definitely be like an all, one stop shop.
YARO: What was the grant?
MARIANA: It’s NEIS. It’s called New Enterprise Incentive Scheme.
YARO: I was on that too [chuckle].
MARIANA: Oh, you were?
MARIANA: That’s awesome.
YARO: A long time ago, I was on that but not with my blog though. I had a proofreading company prior to my blog and yes, it was good. It was basically getting paid to run your business which I assume is still the same thing, right?
MARIANA: It’s exactly the same thing. I just needed a start-up customer business. I only had about $3000 saved up. One requirement to get into that is that you need to be on Center Link and so, I don’t think if you need to know this part of my story but I was actually fired–
YARO: One second, Mariana before you keep going…
MARIANA: Go on.
YARO: For those not from Australia, Center Link is unemployment benefits and I have to say, that was the one requirement I hated about the system because I never had a job and I never want to look for a job, and the idea of going for unemployment benefit was sort of counterintuitive to the whole entrepreneurial desire, right?
YARO: But, you have to do it to get on to the program, right?
MARIANA: Yes, most definitely. And so, when I heard about it, I just thought, “Well, it sounds like a great thing to do,” but yes, exactly the same, I just did not want to go in Center Link. I just felt like it was going to kill my soul.
YARO: But, you did.
MARIANA: I did. I got fired, for the first time in my life and it was horrible a time but it was the biggest blessing in disguise because if I hadn’t been fired, I’m starving, and so, I would have just stayed in that job, which I hated anyways–
YARO: What was that job?
MARIANA: So, I used to work for Mercedes and–
YARO: Okay, I’m getting confused. There’s a lot of interns and a lot of jobs and different things. You’re doing a lot of things at once, I am assuming.
MARIANA: I always do a lot of things at once [laughter]. This is when I was saving to go overseas and do my masters in fashion, and so, yes, my full time job was at Mercedes and I switched from one Mercedes to a different one just because I wanted a job with more responsibility and more pay.
And yes, that was the catalyst for me just going full tilt on my dreams, I guess because otherwise, I was just doing it like at night time. So, I was researching websites and doing some marketing research, learning about branding, and so, nothing of what I’m doing is my industry at all. I just had to learn it from scratch.
YARO: Let me just collect everything. So, I’m going back to scratch.
Your family, your parents are immigrants from South America, Peru. So, you got that background with an Italian family name, and then, you brought your mum to these businesses. You’ve then gone to University. So, your mum was in fashion, so you obviously cared about fashion, too. You went to University, did the fashion degree. Meanwhile, you’re also working, no doubt, several jobs and all kinds of different things.
Then, you start your fashion blog, you’re doing too much, you’re burn out. I’m assuming you’re in your early twenties for all of these, as well, still. And then, you decide, after the internship, and you get this realization that you want to have complete freedom.
You still have the Mercedes job right at that point. I’m assuming were you doing the internship at the same time you were doing Mercedes? Or, that came after the internship?
MARIANA: No, no, no. Same time.
YARO: Okay, so all the same time. So, you really do everything the same time.
YARO: So, then you get fired from Mercedes and you get accepted into NEIS around the same time, the employment government grant, so you’re being told now, you have to work on your business full time and we’re going to support you a little bit with some money and some mentoring and at that stage, you only just started the SkinnyKitchen.com.au blog initially as a recipe database but now, you decided, “I have to sell something to make money to meet the criteria for this grant,” because they want you to show income with the grant. I remember that myself.
How old were you then at that point? Where are we at now?
MARIANA: About 26.
YARO: Okay, so that was not too long ago, I am assuming. This was your first year in business?
MARIANA: A few years ago.
YARO: Okay so, that was your first year of business, then, for the current blog.
YARO: All right, so let’s dive in to that first year of Skinny Kitchen. Can I just clarify one thing because everyone always wants to know this, did you do everything yourself? Did you register a domain name, set up the hosting, choose a theme for your blog, are you on WordPress, how did you pick the name? All these sorts of technical things.
MARIANA: Yes, everything which is probably not helpful to everyone who’s listening.
YARO: Well, let’s start there.
MARIANA: Yes, exactly. However, if I was to do it all over again, I would go on oDesk which is now it called UpWork and I would have had people set it up for me so I would have done it faster and it wouldn’t had been such a headache. But yes, because I had my previous blog, the fashion one, I did have a lot of experience in getting a domain, getting a theme, setting it up by myself, and so, the old blog was in WordPress and the new one is on WordPress, as well.
Yes, I guess, I literally googled everything and that’s how I learned.
YARO: Did you write all the content yourself as well?
MARIANA: So far, I do. I think it’s something I should be outsourcing now and because I’m at a phase where things are going to the next level and unfortunately, I don’t have too much time to continue doing the content and so, I’m looking at outsourcing that as much as I can but without losing the authenticity of our branding.
YARO: But, when you started, obviously, there were no funds to hire anyone, so it’s all about you.
MARIANA: Yes, that’s right. So, I try to keep as much as I could to invest in products for when I had the store.
YARO: So, tell me about the store. I didn’t realize the store was from day one. Normally, you’d build an audience and then, add a store is the way to make money, but you had the store from the beginning, so to me, that’s really daunting, finding product, e-commerce, and on top of that, building an actual audience to sell things to, so you’re kind of doing two things at once.
Can you explain how that all came to be?
MARIANA: Well, I didn’t have the products until probably six months into it. So, initially, I just, while I was going through the NEIS program, I had already had about a year and a half of notes, I guess, of what I want the website to look like, how I want it to feel, the reason why I am starting it up and what it would eventually become when it became massive.
And so, I started my Instagram in about July 2013 because my first thought was just like what you said, I thought I need someone to sell to because if not, it will just be my mum buying from me and that’s depressing.
And so, I set up my Instagram. I had been on Instagram for a year prior, and I had been, because I knew I was going to do Skinny Kitchen a year prior, I just thought I need to learn how to be good at this and because I saw that Instagram was a great platform but no one had thought of it, thought to use it as a business at that point in time, like at that point in time, it was just called selfies, I guess and food pictures.
A year prior, I was on Instagram and I was trying my absolute best to gain audience but on my personal account, and it wasn’t–
YARO: So, it was mostly selfies then, right?
MARIANA: Yes, definitely [chuckle].
It was not after until when I started the Skinny Kitchen account that I realized that you can’t have an Instagram account and expect it to be huge if you don’t really have a reason why people should follow it. As in if it’s me taking selfies, like who cares? But, if it’s something that benefits people on a daily basis, whatever it may be, people tend to follow causes and reasons why that makes sense.
YARO: So, what was your cause?
MARIANA: Well, mine was about healthy, I normally say to inspire… so, it’s to–
YARO: It’s obviously healthy food because I am looking at it right now.
MARIANA: It is.
YARO: You’re making me hungry when I look at your Instagram. It’s Instagram.com/skinnykitchen for those listening in and it’s making me very, very hungry right now. It’s obviously a lot of food.
MARIANA: Yes, definitely. It’s to inspire creativity and abundance through healthy living. That’s what it is.
MARIANA: So, initially, when you think of being healthy, you think of diets, so you think of garden salads and just mundane boring food. My approach to health is that you can have it all like you can have pancakes, you can have muffins, you can have it all but it’s just the way you make it rather than making it from flour and sugar and milk, you can make it from bananas and oats and honey.
And so, it’s just into changing the ingredients and to feel that you can have it all and you can be satisfied by living a healthy life. And so, that’s what my approach to health is and I wanted to promote that visually. And so, if you’re on my Instagram and you scroll all the way back down, it doesn’t look so pretty. And so, it’s been an evolution of how I want to present it, but that’s always been the main thing.
YARO: Let’s stay with Instagram for a while. I still want to go back to your shop as well. But, with Instagram, like that’s an insane amount of followers in a year in six months– 100,000 in six months. Was there anything strategic or tactical? Did you get a lot of exposure points from other people or was it just people sharing your photos?
MARIAN: It was both. It’s more people tagging their friends and telling them to cook that for them. So, it’s people being really cheeky. That’s exactly what I wanted to create in my community or environment. I think the one thing that I relate it back to is just having a reason why and the way, I think, trying to show your brand in a visual way especially because Instagram is a visual platform.
Initially growing my following, I started with hashtagging. You were allowed a maximum of 30 hashtags on each post. I would concentrate on like 20-ish and then, I’d leave ten to specify on that particular post.
And so, at that point in time, I was typing each and everyone out every time I’d post, but now, what I do is I just copy and paste. I’ll have my like normal 20 and copy and paste, and then, you put it in the comments.
And so, when they ask me now is if they want to go following, just have those 20 and then, add another ten. Every ten that you post, put it in the comments, and so, if you’re not like me who tries to post like three or four times a day, you can just delete that comment, put the hashtags back on and then, it will bring your post at the top of the hashtag list and get more exposure.
YARO: And, where do you source your photography from?
MARIANA: These, with most of my pictures, I collaborate with lots of authors who’d create those recipes. Because Skinny Kitchen is purely a community-based business, and that’s how I want it centered around, I have lots of different people who want to contribute to, I guess, the community.
And, in that way, because there’s only so much that I can cook and take photos of and everything, so I just thought I want to do it faster and also to uplift people who are actually passionate about what they are doing and who were doing it better and maybe they might have 300 followers or so, it would be great to put them in the spotlight and praise them for what they are doing and give them a bit of credit and give them exposure, as well. I think that’s just how it should be. So yes, I use my platform to not only promote healthy meaning but promote those who are trying to get their voice out as well.
YARO: Mm-hmm, okay so you even during the early days, you were, correct me if I’m wrong, primarily the growth came from very consistent hashtagging and sourcing fantastic photographs, but from people as well as yourself making food, but other people making food and they were posting on Instagram. You sort of collected your favorites from other people. It’s almost like collating everyone’s best food pictures and then, sharing it on yours. So, you kind of benefited from that.
Okay, that’s interesting. It shows how much growth Instagram has gone through in recent couple of years, too. I won’t say that’s it but that is it– kind of how you managed to grow to such a large following.
MARIANA: Yes, exactly. And so, for example, I’d feature someone and then, that person would be like, “Oh, I just got featured in Skinny Kitchen,” and share it with their people. And so, within a day, I could have exposure, thousands of people when my personal account would have been only a couple hundred or so, you know.
And then, within that as well, there would be people who would be tagging their friends, say, “Well, I was tweeting that the other day,” or, “How to use this one product,” or, “Hey, make this for me on the weekend…
Instagram and social media are just generally shareable. You just have to make it as shareable as possible. And so, keeping that in mind, I try and share as much as I can and then, people share within that as well.
I think that’s been the catalyst of my growth.
YARO: Yes, exactly. So, with the growth, has the Instagram channel obviously been the number one traffic source coming back to your blog, is that right?
MARIANA: Yes, definitely.
YARO: And how do you do that? Just for people who kind of don’t understand the connection, how do you bring a person back from an Instagram profile back to a blog to potentially become a customer, too?
MARIANA: I wasn’t doing it very well initially, but at the moment, the way I’m doing is… So, all my posts, pretty much all my posts are food and recipes. I list the recipes and the ingredients and at the bottom, I will say, “You can find these certain ingredients on my online store. Please click in the bio for a direct link.”
And so then, people go to the biography of your Instagram profile and it just clicks directly to the store.
YARO: Okay, so I am looking at a, what is this, a vegan hamburger right now. It’s got a wonderful picture of vegan hamburger. It’s got the recipe to make it and it’s got the person who came up with the recipe as well, and then at the bottom, actually you don’t have a link, I don’t think on this one to your own profile.
MARIANA: Does it say, “Visit my profile”?
YARO: Let me see… Actually, you do say, “Visit our health food store in the bio,” Okay so, it’s in your bio, “…for health ingredients and express delivery, haven’t shopped with us before? Use the code NEWBIE for $10 off your first order. #skinnykitchen #skinnykitchensaver”
Okay so, basically, you’re very direct to your saying, “Buy this stuff at our store.” I can see how this works now because you’ve got a following. It’s something for someone else to be featured on your Instagram, but during the early days, when you didn’t have a large audience, I’m assuming the growth would have been a little bit slower because when you featured someone for them, it was like, well Skinny Kitchen is not big yet, so it’s not such a big deal for them to be on your Instagram.
Is it a case of just slowly growing at the start, featuring a few people, adding a few hundred, then a few hundred more, then a few thousand and it sort of just compounds? Is that how the growth works?
MARIANA: So, initially, I started just with hashtags and it was low to an extent, but like I said, at that point in time, I couldn’t republish those hashtags again and again. But, I think it was after probably around 2000, that’s when people who I didn’t feature at that point in time, they would just say, “You know, I love your account. I’d love to feature you with my people because I think that they would love to know about you. I was hoping you would do the same for me.”
And so, I’d look at their account and I’d be like, “Yes, we have similar values and beliefs,” and so, definitely why not?
YARO: Is there a word for that like a phrase, Instagram swapping or something?
MARIANA: “Shout out.”
YARO: Shout outs, okay.
MARIANA: Or, sometimes, if you’re in your account, because it doesn’t happen too much in mine, but if you have a smaller account, people would refer to it as S for S or SFS or S4S.
YARO: Share for share, is that it?
MARIANA: Yes, I guess so. That’s share for share.
YARO: Okay, that’s probably the lingo.
MARIANA: Yes, exactly. And so, I would always like to talk to the person first and create a relationship. And so, yes.
YARO: Correct me if I am wrong then, as you get larger, you can get more share for shares from other larger accounts. You kind of get to grow because they won’t feature anyone unless you’re sort of around the same size, is that kind of what’s happening?
MARIANA: Yes, that’s right. That happened for a little where it was just a share for share and it would be, for example, “Oh, I’ll advertise you for an hour,” but now, those share for shares are now if you get me 500 followers, I’ll get you 500 followers.
YARO: Ah. So, it’s quite specific.
MARIANA: Yes, it is. And so then, you have to count it and everything and you have to be there monitoring, you know, how many followers… it’s a little bit annoying.
YARO: [Laughter] I know that.
MARIANA: I’m actually not really too heavily involved in that anymore.
YARO: Yes, well you’re lucky because you’re big enough now that you can sort of decide what to do, right?
MARIANA: Yes, that’s right.
YARO: All right, that’s interesting. Thank you for the insight. I was curious. I know there’s a lot of swapping going on with Instagram accounts and I know a lot people are making money from it, as well.
Let’s turn our attention to your blog then. So, your Instagram account grew quite rapidly and can you take us back first to the set-up of the shop and how you supplied the product because I am assuming you don’t have like a garage full of all these products, do you?
MARIANA: I do.
YARO: Okay, so this is awesome.
MARIANA: It’s currently like our rumpus room.
MARIANA: Yes, but initially it was, I had a one-bedroom apartment and it was, for a little while, it just occupied one unit, like a storage unit, not a storage unit like it’s a shelf, storage unit shelf.
YARO: So, did you just buy products at wholesale, is that how you do it?
MARIANA: I tried to. Some I was able to and then, some I would have to go overseas and buy it at like a discounted price, but it wasn’t wholesale price.
YARO: Okay, so that’s probably been a big job to begin with, sourcing products then.
MARIANA: Yes, most definitely, and the thing with that is, because I had a year and a half on Instagram, I was on Instagram a year and a half. Skinny Kitchen had six months on Instagram before we had the actual store live.
I had sort of seen what people were using the most or loving and so, I guess, I did a bit of market research to know what would actually sell. And so, I only had $3000 to start off with which sounds like a lot but when I saw what actually bought me, it was literally nothing. And so, I had to make sure that I was literally betting on the right things.
YARO: So, your Instagram account was almost like market research for you to find out what was popular.
MARIANA: Yes, most definitely. So, it served two purposes which was awesome.
YARO: Okay, so how did you set up the e-commerce part, the shopping cart on your blog?
MARIANA: I went through ThemeForest.net and there’s a billion themes on there and I just looked up a Woo Commerce and that would do what I wanted to do and I could cater it to look like what I wanted it to look like. It was mostly, what I wanted for. It was obviously, the checkout cart system, but I wanted it to look clean and be simple, and so I just looked into the hundreds that were there and found one and set it up. It took me a few days but we got there in the end.
YARO: And then, you put the products into the database, right, as simple as that and then, they’re live and ready to go. Is that how it works?
MARIANA: Yes, I had to take photos of my products because you’re not allowed to repurpose other people’s photos. So, I took photos of everything, I put it up, put the amount up and hooked up my Paypal to it and just put it up live and promote it to my Instagram account and then, we’re off.
YARO: Okay, how did you go with that first promotion? How many sales did you make? It must have been exciting.
MARIANA: It was. So, at first, well the first few minutes or the first few hours, I’m not sure if I got any sales, and I was nervous because I thought, oh my God, how am I going to eat? $3000 worth of health food.
MARIANA: That was my worst case scenario. I only thought about it when it was live. But, I think I sold out in a day and a half, so that went really well.
YARO: All right.
MARIANA: Yes. I guess, it wasn’t much products but it was a couple thousand of dollars that I made so yes, I was pretty happy.
YARO: And then, you brought more products.
MARIANA: Then, I bought more products but because I was trapped with how much money I had, I sort of had to have everything out of stock for about a week until I could re-order and well, because it was on Paypal, I had to wait for our Paypal money to come through, then I could order and then, it was a week later that I had more stuff and then, I’d promote them in Instagram account, “Hey, I’m sorry about last week. We sold out but now, we’ve got more stock.” And then, we sold out again.
YARO: [Laughter] Yes, it’s just a case of feeding, right?
MARIANA: Yes, and by “we,” I mean, me, myself and I.
YARO: Yes [laughter].
MARIANA: I keep using plural, sorry.
YARO: That’s all right. Everyone does that. Okay, so how is this cycle going for you because I can imagine, every time you do it, you’re making more profit, but then, you’re re-investing profit back into stock. How do you manage the growth? Did you just continue like that consistently and has it continued like that consistently?
MARIANA: It has. There are peaks within the industry, and so, it would be going up and down, but initially, because I only had so much that I could work with, it all seemed to sell out and have to restock and it would be another week until I could sell again and so, the first thing I did was I added like a matching ID in eWAY so I could get my money quicker.
YARO: Right, so no more Paypal. You took credit cards now.
MARIANA: Yes, well I put Paypal on there because people prefer to use Paypal as well, but I put on the eWAY with matching ID which is like straight credit card from the website, so I’d get my money the same day or the next day and I could just re-order as quickly as I could. Yes… did I answer that question?
YARO: You did answer that.
So, it sounds very simple when we kind of recap what you’ve done. It’s your Instagram strategy which worked really well and still works, grew your large audience, you had a blog, obviously as the sort of basic platform where everything is kind of connected together, you set up the store, you found out what people wanted to buy, thanks to the Instagram account, put some products in there, post it in Instagram saying, “I got stuff for sale, let’s hope someone buys it.” Enough people bought it and then, they gave you money to buy more stock and you’ve just been slowly kind of repeating that process, improving your systems, adding a credit card payment processor…
Where are you at today with this? Do you still spend your time focusing on Instagram and just finding stock and selling products? Or, is there more to it than that now?
MARIANA: There’s a lot more to it now. Because of my, I guess my following, there are lots of brands that want to advertise with me, and so we do that in different ways, and so it’s usually through social media campaigns, but it’s now venturing into the blogging and I think, we might be doing the same things now.
And then, I started to focus a little bit more on blogging and splitting out rather than just blogging on just random things. I’m now sort of creating, I guess, like a digital publication, so it is blogs but it’s not going to be written by me. It’s going to be written mostly by, I guess, professionals, who know what they are talking about and they can be a little bit more specific on certain topics and so, we’re now writing on, what is it? Beauty, Nutrition, Fitness, Wellness, and Lifestyle.
YARO: This is all on the Skinny Kitchen blog or is this another publication?
MARIANA: So, on the Skinny Kitchen. I’ve spread the categories out. So, we can then get more information on certain topics.
YARO: So, you’re basically running a magazine now with your blog.
MARIANA: Kind of. So, I’ve turned it, yes, it’s a little bit more professional and it’s less about me and what I’m thinking and what I have been doing. It’s not that side of things. It’s more about information that people can take away, use and add value to their lives. So, I’ve got that. That’s almost like a little, I guess, mainstream as to just the online store and I have about like a sort of a five-year plan, and so I’m currently in the middle of doing lots of crazy things.
And, one of the things is I want to open up a store at the end of this year in Brisbane and so, because it’s probably six months away, next month, I’m going to start doing selling at the markets and just–
YARO: Which markets by the way? I’m just curious.
MARIANA: Yes, of course. I’m thinking, well, I’m going to definitely go into the Rocklea market, but then I want to do Jan Farmers Markets on Wednesdays, and I think they do a Sunday market as well.
YARO: Yes. I think at Newfarm.
MARIANA: Well, they used to do Sunday Market at Newfarm. I’m not sure if they do anymore.
YARO: Oh, really.
MARIANA: They only do it on Saturdays, yes.
YARO: Okay [chuckle].
MARIANA: Anyway, so I am going out and I am just… Yes?
YARO: We’re having a very local conversation. No one else outside of Brisbane have any clue of what we’re talking about [chuckle].
MARIANA: Yes, I’m so sorry [chuckle].
YARO: That’s all right.
MARIANA: Yes, I’m going to go out and I’m going to have like a little market stall and just go out and put more focus on my Brisbane customer base, so I can experiment and grow it, so that when I do have my store, I don’t have, once again my mother just coming and buying for me. I’ve got people who actually want to come and see and see what we have and visit us.
And so, with what I am doing with Skinny Kitchen, it’s not like a health food store. I promoted it as a health food store initially, but I’ve been trying to figure out where we lie in the market because it’s health foods but we also have like sport supplements as well.
And so, we’re somewhere in between where we’re like a lifestyle store because health and fitness now, they are hand-in-hand. It’s very rare that you can, well, not very rare. It’s becoming more of a trend, I guess, but if you go into the gym, you’re eating well. If you’re eating well, you’re doing some kind of physical activity, and so, that sort of why I have seen a big success in what I have been doing because I haven’t just focused on all health foods or what supplements. I just noticed that my market, their imitation of both industries in one and I haven’t seen anyone in Australia at least, target that market, which seems to be quite a big market.
YARO: Okay. I’d love to know then, what sort of your typical day like because it does sound like you really want to separate yourself from the content production side of things and you do like being, like you said, sitting on top and running the business, but not working in the business so much and I can feel that coming through in what you’re talking about. Now, you’re talking about setting up stores, but I don’t see you running them. You’re running them at the blog, but you’re no longer going to write for it. I can imagine the Instagram channel at some point, it’s going to be completely handled by someone else as well.
But, since you’re obviously not quite there yet, you’re still kind of building all these, what do you currently do today? What did you do yesterday? What’s a day in the life of Mariana like?
MARIANA: Yes, well, it’s crazy because I’m focusing on so many different channels, I have to, I guess, separate it in my mind and try and focus on one thing at one time.
So, I’m currently trying to organize a little market style and I’m trying to just do other like writing as well, but also trying to find some great writers who would be able to provide great content for anyone who goes to the blog and wants to know more about wellness or lifestyle and things like that.
With Instagram, I personally run that myself because it’s such a large audience. I feel like, it’s almost like giving a bank account to someone else. It’s just as easy to change a password and I will never see it again. So, at this point in time, it’s just me running it.
And, I have alarms that go off every few hours just to remind me to post something. And so, my life kind of runs on alarms at the moment. My Facebook page, so I made a strategy of what things I want to get posted and what recipes as well, and so I have a virtual assistant who helps me run that and my Pinterest.
And so, I have like a little strategy where I’ll have secret boards on my Pinterest and I will pin recipes that I know my followers are going to love into that secret board, and then, she goes in and then, she schedules it in Facebook according to the layout that I determine for her, and according to the schedule that I am currently playing with at the moment because you know, Facebook changes their rules and so, you need to play their game.
And so, when they change, I try and change and I’m currently fiddling with a few things to see how I can manipulate the engagement on there.
What else do I do? Well, just always on phone calls or organize things, chase people out. I’m currently changing freight company. That’s been a nightmare. So, anyone who deals with freight companies, I apologize in advance, it’s going to be crazy because it’s hard to get the right price. You may get the right price and you’re dealing with them, then some orders going missing or they don’t get there on time or you’re putting up… [unclear] they don’t leave it there and the customer gets angry at you, and so, I do a lot of customer service as well.
So, I’m like that [unclear] god that has all those arms without being [unclear]. That’s how I feel everyday.
YARO: Right, yes. I can imagine, it’s pretty hectic. That growth period and you have a lot of moving products there.
Just to sort of move towards the end of the interview here Mariana, thank you for sharing so much behind the scenes. For a person who is looking to replicate your success, I’m trying to sort of think what’s been really crucial here. It’s pretty clear, Instagram and the success you’ve had there has been the main driver for traffic and thus, the main driver for customer sales.
I don’t know how you feel regarding people starting an Instagram today and trying to do what you’re doing within their own subject area. What would you advise someone who’s kind of listening to you and six months to get to 100,000 followers, having a buyer as soon as you open up a store, here’s incredibly quick results that I think a lot of people would be envious of. I know I would have been when I started as well.
So, how does one new replicate, how do you advise them to replicate that right now in the current marketplace.
MARIANA: I think hashtag is the king. So, definitely create like about 20 hashtags that you would use on your post within your industry. So, for me, it was healthy eating, clean eating, healthy recipes and all those bits and pieces and then, just keep reposting them every few hours or everyday or a few hours just so you don’t have to pump out so much content, but you still get that following.
YARO: Now, you do recommend Instagram? Would you suggest everyone go there?
MARIANA: Yes, most definitely. I think there was a call today that came out from I think it was Smart Company, and they interviewed Jane Lu from Showpo. She’s got an online store and she’s going crazy with it. And she screwed her business on Facebook because Facebook have changed their rules, and it’s a lot harder for your customers or for your followers to see all your content. She sort of gravitated more to Instagram. She said that that’s where the platform is at, at the moment. I agree as well because there’s not so many rules, if any, on Instagram. And so, it’s mostly just about, just leading people to your page.
And, when you do have your Facebook page, you have to make it appealing for people to want to follow you, if that makes sense. It sounds pretty obvious but let’s say, someone found you through a hashtag, they look at your post, and then they will click on your name and look at your profile. You have probably six posts, your last six posts would be the first one to show up, and then, obviously, your name and your biography and everything and people make quick decisions. And so, if they see that and they don’t like it, they’ll just click off and continue looking through the hashtag.
But, if you have something that’s really appealing, and very consistent with your brand, then they are going to want to follow you. And so, that’s where I found a lot of my success. So, it wasn’t just the hashtags. Hashtag is how you get around, but then, you have to keep them and keep their interests as well. So, you have to know what you’re about and always keep providing them that content that they are there for.
The easiest way to know what they are there for is just to ask them. People are usually friendly and they’ll let you know exactly what they like and what they don’t like. It’s just as easy as asking a question.
YARO: Do you think though that, given that everyone is doing this now and it’s going to become more and more crowded that what’s going to happen is similar to what happened to Facebook, people who migrate to Pinterest next, or whatever new platform comes, or do you think, because of the simplicity of Instagram, it’s always going to be a viable platform or will there be significant changes? Just based on your experience.
MARIANA: Yes. Gary Vaynerchuck who is like Social Media king, he says market has ruined everything, and they do. Instagram, it’s great for now and it’s been great for about the last few years, but it will be ruined at some point in time, but then you just move on to the next platform, I guess. It sounds sucky but it’s just the way that it’s going to be. Look at Facebook, and Facebook owns Instagram. And so, they are starting to now advertise bigger brands like Myer and Target who based through Instagram and testing that platform out.
So, in a few years, it’s going to be, it probably won’t be as heavily guidelined as Facebook but it will definitely be a lot more difficult. And then, by then, there will probably be another social media. It just depends on where your market is. So, my market tends to be on Instagram and Snapchat. Facebook is a little harder once on Facebook but to get to that, to come off on their feed is a little harder but yes, you’re just there where all your customers go.
YARO: And, I did notice you have an email pop up for your email list which is an asset that you can own like I’ve always been a big proponent of capturing emails for this exact reason. If Facebook dies, if Instagram dies, you’re going to own your email list at the end of the day. So, in your mind, is that where you are clearly focusing on email a bit, too, right?
MARIANA: Yes, most definitely. I just think as much information as I can capture to always be, I guess, in some ways.
I’ve learnt this thing from a friend who’s name is Jack Delosa and he runs a company called The Entourage which is business education. One of the things that I have learnt from him that which stays in my mind is recency and frequency.
So, if you can be in front of your customer, if you are the most recent and the most frequent, then you’re always going to be at the top of their mind when they go in to buy for example, me, health foods, they want to buy health foods and I am always recent and frequent, I’m going to be the first one in their mind for who to go to.
YARO: Yes, that’s a good point. So, you’re basically trying to capture as many contact points as you can so you can keep showing up somewhere in their–
MARIANA: Yes. Like a stalker.
YARO: Yes [chuckle] in a good way.
All right, fantastic Mariana. I’m just going to suggest to people listening in, go check out SkinnyKitchen.com.au to see your store and your website, but also very importantly to check out your Instagram which is Instagram.com/skinnykitchen, and they can see what you do and how you send people back to your Skinny Kitchen website and that’s a good introduction to what you do, and thank you for sharing all of that.
Is there anything else you want to throw in before we sign off?
MARIANA: Not really. I feel like I’ve given my last dime [chuckle].
YARO: Well, that’s what we try and do with the Entrepreneurs’ Journey podcast.
MARIANA: Yes, definitely.
YARO: Congratulations on the success. No doubt you’re going to keep growing. It sounds like you’ve got quite different goals there. I did not pick you going to having a physical presence, as well. I can see that’s probably a bit of a personal passion project, not just about the money, I am assuming. So, that’s interesting.
MARIANA: Yes, well actually, none of it is about the money. I mean, it’s great to get paid but I have a massive vision for where I want it to go. So, there’s a lot of, just kind of like that image that you see is like an iceberg and you see like the tip of it over the water and then, there’s like this massive thing at the bottom, that’s basically Skinny Kitchen to me, lots and lots to come.
YARO: Right. Okay, well, I’ll keep my eye on it and no doubt everyone listening in will as well. Good luck in the future.
MARIANA: Thank you.
YARO: And, for everyone listening in, if you want to grab the show notes and the transcript and everything to go along with this podcast, you can go to my blog– Entrepreneurs-Journey.com or just google my name, Yaro. You’ll also find all the previous episodes there.
Thank you, Mariana. Thank you to all the listeners and I’ll catch you guys in the next episode.
I hope you enjoyed that interview with Mariana and you took away plenty of notes on Instagram and having an online store and selling physical products as well as just being inspired by another young entrepreneur using social media and blogging to have success very rapidly.
I’d just like to invite you again to go to interviewsclub.com which will redirect you to the blog page where you can sign up for the EJ podcast newsletter. That means any future interviews I release like this one, you will receive an email notification as soon as it’s released and you’ll get it first.
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Thanks for listening. My name is Yaro Starak from the Entrepreneurs’ Journey podcast. You know where to find me. I’ll talk to you in the next interview. Goodbye.
About Yaro Starak
Yaro Starak is the author of the Blog Profits Blueprint, a report you can download instantly to learn how to make $10,000 a month, from only blogging 2 hours per day. You can find Yaro on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.