I wish someone told me to invest in high-quality goods and services right from the beginning. I learned this lesson a few years in, which resulted in me having equipment failing, things not working, and ultimately resulting in me buying what I should have purchased in the beginning anyway.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Randhawa.
Jessica Randhawa is the head chef, recipe creator, photographer, and writer behind The Forked Spoon. She creates delicious family-friendly recipes that anyone can make, and her website has over one million users per month.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I first started food blogging back in 2011. As a recent graduate from the University of California Santa Cruz with a Bachelors of Science in Molecular, Celluar, Developmental Biology, I was working at Stanford University School of Medicine when my husband and I decided to leave our jobs, pack our things into boxes, and backpack through Asia for six months. I fell in love with the blogging community throughout that journey, traveling and cooking (plus eating) new foods and flavors.
While traveling through Asia and expanding my taste pallet, I learned some of my favorite recipes by taking professional culinary classes at various cooking schools with some fantastic chefs along the way.
Since returning from Asia, I started (and said farewell) to two separate websites — Lost & Found on Blogger and Coffee & Crayons on Square Space. I also lived, worked, and traveled through Europe while working as an Au Pair in Germany, had a baby, got married, learned how to use a camera, and survived a stroke.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
In 2012, Pinterest was a brand new platform, and I was traveling the world logging my culinary and travel adventures on a Blogger website. About halfway through 2012, my Pinterest following had grown into the hundreds of thousands. Suddenly, I was getting a lot of emails from businesses wanting me to help them monetize their products on Pinterest. That summer, I realized that I had grown my online presence from a fun hobby into something that could generate income.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
The biggest challenge that held back my success for a few years was picking the wrong Content Management System of Squarespace after transitioning from the Blogger Content Management System. While Squarespace was straightforward to use, it didn’t help me grow my traffic to my website. While on Squarespace, I increased my profitable full-time business by 20% year over year, which is substantial profitable growth for most small business owners. However, traffic to my website didn’t grow during this same period because of the limitations of that content management system.
While there are many different avenues to drive traffic like email and social media, one of the biggest traffic drivers for most professional websites and blogs is Google Searches. I found out that having a domain on a quality host with WordPress as the Content Management System enables the building and configuring of a much more search engine friendly and social media friendly website.
Fast forward to being on WordPress for over two years, and we have grown our traffic from May 31, 2018, to May 31, 2020, by 2139%. 58% of our traffic is now from Google, and 35% is from social media sites like Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook. As a result of that growth, we rarely do any sponsored posts anymore, focusing instead on traffic growth, which drives ad revenue.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Many successful small businesses, including my own, grow organically from a side business, project, or hobby. Building up a startup business can be done gradually in steps, allowing for a smoother transition while revenue accelerates from that first dollar. More so, moving more conservatively provides a safety net should the initial stages of the new venture not progress as planned.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I am continuing to outsource the parts of my business that I don’t love or areas where I am not an expert. So my best advice is not to be afraid to invest in contractors with specialized skill sets. This goes for any part of the business that you don’t have the expertise, is project-based, or does not warrant hiring full-time staff. Hiring the right people for the right job is essential for growth. Just make sure that you do your due diligence with verified referrals or reviews of the services offered. Having this outsourcing and growth mindset helps keep The Forked Spoon fresh and enjoyable to me.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
Staying motivated in a continually changing world can pose severe challenges to any business owner. I firmly believe that finding outlets outside of work and scheduling those outlets regularly has helped me stay focused and motivated in my time expected for business. Pre-pandemic, I was a massive fan of Cross Fit like High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) group classes, which I would do five to six days per week to clear my head, spike my heart rate up, and get my endorphins pumping. With my gym shut down and no opening insight, I have had to look for new ways to get those same benefits, which will help me continue to grow my business. I turned my focus to trail running with my dog in the hills behind my house. While it is not quite the same workout level, I can clear my head in nature while enjoying flora and fauna (not including our local rattlesnakes). These long runs help me stay focused and allow my headspace to be refreshed when I return to business.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Being an influencer involves a lot of screentime! Before I was an influencer, I would have imagined an influencer lifestyle involving more action. In reality, I am always in front of my MacBook, iPad, or iPhone writing, editing photos, emailing, chatting, posting — I live in a digital world.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
Nope — I love being my own boss and being fully in charge of my success or failure.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started taking food photos on my blogger website, I used a point-and-shoot camera rather than a professional DSLR camera — those were some gruesome photos!
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My husband is a big inspiration for me to be a great leader for my company. He has a very professional management background working at a Fortune 50 company, and his hard work ethic is both inspiring and helps me drive my business forward.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
While I often donate money to charitable causes that I truly believe in, with well over a half-million followers on my social media and with a monthly audience on my website of over one million visitors, I have a more extensive reach than most. I try to use that reach organically every day to make people’s lives better by always keeping my messaging positive and productive.
At the same time, I try to run my business as sustainably as possible. For example, the mighty servers that run The Forked Spoon are powered by 100% renewable energy, as are the majority of our business needs. We also make sure never to waste the food we cook, to lower our company’s carbon footprint.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I wish someone told me about the many benefits of WordPress over other Content Management Systems. That is easily the biggest mistake that I have made, like driving a car with the parking brake on for years, never really knowing the car’s true potential.
- I wish someone told me to network more with other food bloggers. Working alone can be very isolating, which is something only other bloggers can understand what it is like.
- I wish someone told me always to write down my recipes while I am making them. This is because there have been several occasions where I have not done this, resulting in having to redo the entire recipe!
- I wish someone told me to invest in high-quality goods and services right from the beginning. I learned this lesson a few years in, which resulted in me having equipment failing, things not working, and ultimately resulting in me buying what I should have purchased in the beginning anyway.
- Ask for help from friends or spouses. Who would have known my husband would have turned into my dishwasher and tech guy if I had not asked!
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Food waste is a huge problem. There are almost 8 billion humans now that require multiple meals per day. It is estimated that 30–40% of food is wasted in the USA alone. Meanwhile, every year humans clear more and more forests into farmland for food and pastureland for livestock. Solving that food waste problem can significantly impact deforestation and climate change in one single stroke.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Being a female entrepreneur who is also an influencer, I loved reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I loved the chapter “Don’t Ask Anyone to be Your Mentor”, as it helped me realize that getting a diverse view of the advice from both people, senior and junior, can be more effective than having one single go-to person for advice. After reading this book a few years ago, I still keep a diverse group of people around me who I go to as sounding boards.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have lunch with Sheryl Sanberg!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.