Anne Clark of ‘My Kitchen Serenity’: “FEAR OF FAILURE”

FEAR OF FAILURE — A little fear can be very good for you. Without fear of failure, you become complacent or even lose some of that passion. I need to have that thought in the back of my mind that if I don’t give my business my very best, then it is not going to succeed. Being a […]

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FEAR OF FAILURE — A little fear can be very good for you. Without fear of failure, you become complacent or even lose some of that passion. I need to have that thought in the back of my mind that if I don’t give my business my very best, then it is not going to succeed.

Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing (Anne Clark).

Anne Clark is the founder and content creator at My Kitchen Serenity, a food blog focused on serving the needs of busy moms or dads who are looking for delicious meals for the family. A self-taught online entrepreneur, Anne is also a wife, mom, and grandmom who uses her experiences and rich Louisiana heritage to develop delicious recipes with a bit of southern flair.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Thank you for having an interest in my story! I’m excited to be able to share it. I’ve always had an appreciation and love for home-cooked meals. I grew up with parents and grandparents who loved to cook. My family’s roots run deep in south Louisiana so I grew up on all kinds of delicious food like jambalaya and etouffee. Cooking for the family was an expression of love and a time to gather around and visit. I guess those positive experiences are the reason why I have always loved trying out new foods and recipes.

When the children were grown and out on their own, my husband and I had time on our hands and an inclination to pursue other interests. We both worked full time but felt the need to continue to stay busy. So about 3 years ago my husband started a relationship/lifestyle blog. When he started his blog, right away, I knew I wanted to help contribute by adding my favorite recipes to his blog. I don’t think I ever asked him what he thought about having recipes on his blog; I just kinda threw myself in there; with a smile of course. So, while he was writing relationship posts, I was in the kitchen cooking my favorite recipes and writing recipe posts. Of course, my recipe posts consisted of all our favorite family recipes. After 30 years of cooking for the family, I was enjoying cooking and sharing my recipes with others, and it became a fun and challenging adventure.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

I think my “aha moment” was when my husband lovingly said, “start your own blog”! I can say this with a smile on my face, but that was “the moment” that lit a fire inside me to start my own blog. It didn’t take me very long to come up with the name “My Kitchen Serenity” since that’s truly how I feel during recipe development and photography. For some people, serenity is on the beach. For me, it’s being creative with different foods and spices, and making it all come together for a great meal or dessert. Cleaning up the after mess, well, that’s not my cup of tea.

About 9 months after startup, we realized My Kitchen Serenity was starting to show real potential for growth into a business. People were following me on Pinterest, subscribing to my email list, leaving nice comments on my posts, and I was getting traffic to the blog. The lightbulb turned on and we thought — we need to step up our game and get serious about this! We realized the blog had real potential to become a successful online business.

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

I never really considered myself an entrepreneur, but I think I was born with an entrepreneurial mindset. My dad had his own home building company when I was younger. My mom was the bookkeeper and handled most of the administrative duties. As a young kid, I saw them running a business. Both of them worked hard and did whatever it took to provide for their family of 6. So I’m sure some of that exposure subconsciously left its mark on me. I think I’ve always had an entrepreneur’s DNA, I just needed to find the right vehicle.

Once I found my niche, I think that mindset just kinda kicked in for me. My desire to grow and learn more about what makes a successful online entrepreneur was kicked into high gear.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

A lot of that credit goes to my husband! He was the one who got my website set up and functioning flawlessly. He was the one who introduced me to so many sources of valuable information and inspired me to keep searching for answers to my hundreds of questions. Many times, we were learning together since he had a blog of his own that he was trying to get off to a good start, as well. More importantly, he has always been (and still is) my source of encouragement when I feel overwhelmed, discouraged, or disappointed.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The focus of My Kitchen Serenity is all about the busy mom or dad who is trying to find a recipe for the family or for that special holiday meal. They want easy recipes with simple ingredients. They don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen yet they want to provide a delicious home-cooked meal. I believe that if you can meet their needs, then you will stand out.

Early in the beginning phase of my blog, I received a photograph from a dad who was in the kitchen with his young toddler daughter. The photo showed them making one of my muffin recipes. He thanked me for the recipe. The photo touched my heart and gave me a feeling that I must be headed in the right direction. I knew I should be the one thanking him (and I did)!

The online market space is incredibly competitive. The last time I checked, there were around 1.2 billion websites on Google. That is a ridiculous number and growing every day.

When someone goes online, all these sites are vying for their attention. So many sites are screaming, “Hey! Look at me!”

However, I don’t think about my 1.2 billion competitors. I know that as long as I put quality content out there and strive to solve the reader’s “pain points,” they’ll find me. Plus, patience is a virtue — building a large following takes time and patience.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

CONSCIENTIOUS — Ever since I was a child, I’ve always felt that if you’re going to do something, do it to the best of your ability. Try to “do it right the first time” kind of mentality. This has really helped me succeed with my online marketing. Each recipe I publish has to be right the first time! I know I could lose a follower if someone makes my one of recipes and it turns out terrible for them. I put a lot of time and thought into each recipe post to make sure every person who visits my website has a great recipe experience.

PERSEVERANCE — For me, learning how to use WordPress, Photoshop, and Lightroom, and a fancy new camera were huge challenges. I knew that if I were going to be successful, I had to learn these valuable tools of the trade; the success of my company depended on it. It wasn’t easy and I struggled but I didn’t give up. I watched hours and hours of training videos and I finally learned what I needed to know.

On the other side of the coin, when I first started, I knew nothing of online marketing, how to run a website, what virtual assistants were, etc., but I yearned to be successful, so I just saw learning those things as part of the journey.

Success rarely comes overnight. It has taken me time to build up my audience. When I first started, it seemed like forever that I wondered if anyone was reading the recipes I was publishing.

It takes incremental steps over time. Sometimes you will take a big step forward, but most of the time you’re going to have to be satisfied with the small steps. And I am fine with the small steps because forward is forward. Part of the initial building blocks for the business I knew I had to learn.

Now there will be some steps backward, but you can’t let those get you down. For me, there are things like Google algorithm updates that hurt my organic reach or maybe a new recipe that I work really hard on but just didn’t turn out as I expected. Those are steps back, but I keep my head up and understand that more steps forward will come.

RESILIENCE — My mother always tells me “change is inevitable.” The older I get, the more that statement stands out. Life is full of challenges. While we cannot avoid all the changes life throws our way, we can remain open, flexible, and willing to adapt to each change. Whether it’s your personal life or on the business side, resiliency will always be one of my strongest traits.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

I simply don’t have one! Every piece of advice that I chose to follow — whether it turned out to be good advice or terrible advice — was a valuable lesson either way. Once you accept someone’s advice, you own it. If it turns out to be negative, then you have to turn it into something good. Kinda like the lemons to lemonade saying.

There were times during the early stages of creating My Kitchen Serenity when I received advice from more experienced marketers about how to best promote my business. Their advice was well-intentioned, but what worked for them didn’t necessarily work for me. By taking their advice, I was able to really explore and learn what did and did not work for me and my business.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

Just being aware that “burnout” is a real thing and that your employees are often going full steam. After a while of going hard and putting in long stressful hours, members of your team may need a break to recalibrate and refocus. Maybe a change in their day-to-day routine will help with monotonous tasks which can cause burnout.

When you start to notice an employee struggling, work with them and let them know that your door is always open to discuss practical measures to ease that overwhelming feeling.

Additionally, as a leader, you should always stress to your team that everyone faces that overworked, drained, and overwhelmed feeling from time to time. They need to have leadership support so they feel empowered to take a break, have time to recharge their battery or ask for help.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

Be relatable to their customers. Show your concern for their needs and genuinely strive to help them solve the issue they came to you with. In a way, make them feel like family.

You need to let your audience know that you have been in their shoes and understand their needs. I have been the busy mom who worked all day, then came home to prepare a meal for the family, and then had to get kids out the door for a baseball game or soccer practice. It can be tough sometimes; I totally get it.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

I think today’s customers are really smart. They are bombarded with advertising and marketing every day. They can read right through the phony and disingenuous. If they sniff that out, they are gone. You lose all credibility with your audience. However, if your audience feels like they are in a comfortable, caring place, they’ll stick around and come back.

Who better to build authority in an industry than the one who actually has real, hands-on experience? People relate to other people who can share similar life experiences — they can share lessons learned and gain valuable wisdom.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Expecting success to happen too quickly and pulling the plug when it doesn’t happen on their timeline. There is a concept called Plateau of Latent Potential where we may have to go through a phase of disappointment (because we are not seeing the level of success we think we should) before we start to see the fruits of our labor. People often throw in the towel too early.

Not knowing your audience (or customers) can be a mistake. In the blogging world, we create what is known as our “avatar.” The avatar is your imaginative person that you write for. It’s all the people you try to target wrapped up as one person. For me, my avatar is the busy parent, the stay-at-home mom, the grandmother cooking with her grandchildren, the dad making breakfast for the kids — all rolled up into one person. If I can meet the needs of this avatar, I’ve learned my audience and can better meet their needs.

Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

For me as an online entrepreneur, my dramatic highs and lows are often seasonal. During the 4th quarter of the year, traffic to my website is at an all-time high. People are coming to find that special recipe for the holidays. I’m feeling very good about the extra traffic and feedback I’m getting from my audience. But when the 4th quarter is over and the next year begins, people aren’t visiting my website as much. It’s fairly “quiet” in the food recipe niche for the 1st quarter of a new year. That energized 4th quarter has turned into a sluggish 1st quarter. It’s very hard to stay focused on the real reason for this happening (seasonal). At times like this, it’s comforting to reach out to fellow food bloggers who are experiencing the same thing.

As compared to someone in a regular office job you’re not intimately involved in the day-to-day details associated with running the company. In many cases, you’re probably sheltered from the “behind the scenes” highs and lows of running a company. You go to work, do your job, and go home.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

There are a couple of stories I’d love to share.

First — When the dad I mentioned before sent the picture of him and his toddler making my muffin recipe for breakfast. That picture really touched my heart. To know that I was able to play a small role in this sweet moment between a dad and his child was really special. It just reaffirmed my belief that I was providing a service to my readers.

Second — The first monthly payment I received. I could not have been more excited! It was only for around $130 but to me, it was everything! It meant all that learning and hard work was worth it. That $130 told me that I could use my passion for recipes to not only provide a service to my readers, but also help provide for my family. It was just an amazing feeling.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

I think one thing people may not understand is how difficult it is to put yourself out there. When someone is reading my site or making my recipe, I am opening myself up for judgment. There is that fear that someone will go through the effort of finding one of my recipes, purchasing the ingredients, taking the time to prepare it for their family, and be disappointed.

The first negative review I received was crushing! You just take these comments to heart and don’t want anyone to have a less than perfect experience. I believe the comment was for my banana nut muffin recipe. A reader told me the muffins didn’t rise and she threw them out. UGH! I think I lost sleep over that one.

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

Negative reviews hurt, but that negative review taught me some valuable lessons: As much as I’d love to be in the kitchen with every reader, it’s just not possible. Mistakes are going to happen whether it’s by a reader or myself. Perhaps, someone substituted one ingredient for another and it affected the whole recipe. At times, I’ve left out an ingredient in the instructions.

I try to turn a negative into a positive. It’s important for me to remember not to rush through writing a recipe post. If I get in a hurry, I could possibly leave out a key ingredient from the recipe card or even an important step which can lead to a poor experience for the reader and negative comments on my website or social media.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

PASSION — My husband reminds me that people like people with passion. People gravitate to it. Why, because people want to be around people who love what they are doing. I think to be really successful in any venture, you have to let your passion for what you are doing shine through.

For me, the food I prepare is not just about the meal, but also the time to connect when you are sharing a meal with someone. I hope my readers can see that in my writing and in my recipes.

BELIEF — I really believe in what I do and the service My Kitchen Serenity provides. If I did not truly believe that My Kitchen Serenity was impacting lives, then I could not continue to work at the pace that I do. That belief is what drives me to continue to write and experiment with new recipes so I can present them to my readers.

FEAR OF FAILURE — A little fear can be very good for you. Without fear of failure, you become complacent or even lose some of that passion. I need to have that thought in the back of my mind that if I don’t give my business my very best, then it is not going to succeed.

LOVE — Love what you do! When I turn my computer on to write a post or bring my camera out for a photo shoot, I love it. I love the creativity. I love the anticipation of how a new recipe will turn out or how my new photos will look. Most of all, I love connecting with my readers.

Even when you are at your lowest confidence or highest fear, you must realize that you’re doing this job because of your love for it!

GOALS — Never lose sight of your goals. I have big plans for My Kitchen Serenity and revisit my goals frequently. I am constantly evaluating how my activities today relate to helping me reach my goals. Keep your vision of success evergreen. In other words, don’t let your goals fade; keep them fresh and consistently set new ones.

A goal without a plan is just a wish — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

You must be adaptable. Like I said earlier, we cannot avoid all the changes life throws our way, but if you are resilient, you are adaptable to change.

In the world of online marketing, there is always change. Change in how search algorithms rank content, change in how your audience consumes your content. In order to succeed in a very competitive space, creators must be able to adapt to a sometimes quickly changing landscape.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

The first thing that comes to mind is changing schools as a kid. I went to a small private school that only went from kindergarten to 8th grade. When it came time to enter 9th grade, my parents told me I’d have to attend the much larger public school. I was very nervous that first day of school since none of my friends from my previous school were attending this new school. I had never had a locker before, so I was afraid I’d forget my locker combination. I had never had to change classrooms for each subject before. Everything was different. I very vividly remember telling my mom when she dropped me off at school, that I felt like a speckled egg mixed in with all the solid eggs. I felt so out of place and uncomfortable. I was worried that nobody would want to talk to me or be my friend. She told me to walk into school and hold my head high. That’s what I did! Before the day was over, I had made a couple of new friends. Everything was right in the world as far as I was concerned.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

I would love to say, “Yes, I always keep a positive attitude …..”, but that really isn’t the case. My natural tendency is for my mind to immediately go to the worst-case scenario and work my way back.

When I feel myself having a less than positive attitude, I’ll turn my attention to everything that I have to be thankful for. There’s an old saying, “Count your blessings, not your problems.” This exercise opens your mind to focus on the positives which in turn opens up the possibilities for success.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

The power of positivity is immense. A positive attitude is reassuring, calming, and relieves stress. It tells both their clients and their team, “We might be in a tough position right now, but we are going to be ok.” A leader with a positive attitude is great motivation for everyone and has a domino effect.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

I have a couple if that is ok…

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.” — Conrad Hilton

“When you walk in purpose, you collide with destiny.” — Ralph Buchanan. I firmly believe that I’ve been given this platform to reach out to others for a purpose. I may not fully understand (although I try my best) this purpose sometimes, but the purpose is there nonetheless. The sequence of events throughout my life led me to this point where I am able to connect with millions of people and have an impact on their lives. When I am tired or things aren’t going just the way I think they should, I have to remind myself that I am not always in control. I am here because I am supposed to be here.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Thanks for asking. Please visit me at My Kitchen Serenity. Don’t hesitate to reach out. I truly love to hear from readers!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to share with you.

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