Toni Okamoto, the founder of Plant-Based on a Budget, has been blogging for more than a decade. While she started out small, over the years she’s managed to grow her passion project into a business, working as a full-time content creator.
In a recent interview on the Vegan Business Talk podcast, Okamoto shared her advice for anyone interested in following her career path.
Here are her top tips on how to become a successful vegan food blogger and content creator:
Find a niche
While ‘vegan’ itself is a niche, nowadays it’s not enough to simply be a ‘vegan food blogger’. As Okamoto says, “Now there are vegan food blogs for just about every lifestyle you could possibly imagine: gluten-free, soy-free, you name it, there’s a blog.”
Now you have to find a niche within a niche. Do something unique – whether that’s with your content, or your style. Vegan baking blogger Sara Kidd is a rising star due to her high-quality, beautiful images and video, but also her glamorous, retro-style outfits.
Okamoto, meanwhile, continues to focus on producing content that appeals to her predominantly veg-curious audience interested in eating plant-based on a budget.
“Just do it,” says Okamoto. “I know a lot of people who are interested in starting a food blog and they’re thinking about it, but they get caught up in having fancy equipment, or needing to save money to start a nice blog and have a designer and then it just never happens.”
Get your cell phone out and start snapping. “That’s how I started,” says Okamoto. “I started with no money. This was just a passion project.”
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
Okamoto recommends collaborating as much as you can, both when you start out and as you begin to grow. She collaborates with a business partner Michelle Cehn of A World of Vegan (the pair have just released a new book The Friendly Vegan Cookbook: 100 Essential Recipes to Share with Vegans and Omnivores Alike).
“Reach out to people – people reach out to me all the time,” says Okamoto. “I have a series on Plant Based on a Budget’s Instagram called Meatless Mondays, where other people around the world share what they’re eating for lunch and dinner on Mondays. They send me the clips and they’re introduced to my following, and my following is introduced to new ways of eating that are different than what I eat.”
Kidd is a big collaborator too, regularly showcasing other vegan bakers and content creators in her Facebook group. Her warm and generous attitude has seen the group grow quickly to become one of the most popular vegan baking groups on the social media platform.
Be consistent – and persistent
When you first start out and only have a trickle of website visitors and a handful of social media followers, it can feel frustrating, but Okamoto says the key to success is consistency and determination.
“You just have to keep creating content and be consistent, and be your authentic self. Don’t try to model the behaviors you’re seeing of other people online. Just do you and you will gain a following,” says Okamoto.
“When I first started, I had no followers and then I felt like I had 100 followers for years. It can be discouraging, but it’s something that you have to love. If you’re going to get into this to make money and to be an influencer, I feel like that might be the wrong reason because it is a labor of love for a long time and you have to put in the work. You have to collaborate and you have to continue creating meaningful content and engage with your users. Over time, you will build a following, but that upfront labor has to be from your heart.”
Understand SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Getting found in search results from Google and other search engines is important as it’s basically free traffic to your site.
According to Okamoto, good ranking happens over time, hence the need for consistent, high-quality content.
Collaboration can also help with your SEO. “Being featured on someone else’s blog gets you noticed by the algorithm as well as having as many link backs to your website, so write to different bloggers and let them know what you can offer them,” says Okamoto.
Diversify your income streams
As you start to grow your vegan food blog, making sure that you have different ways to monetize your offerings is key to turning your passion into a content creation business.
“Make sure you’re not relying on one source of income,” says Okamoto. “If I were relying on Instagram only to be what brings me money, and then Instagram went away, I wouldn’t be in a good position. So I make sure that I always have diversified streams of revenue.”
Okamoto’s income streams include ambassadorships, brand ambassadorships via Instagram, or on her website where she creates paid content to promote the products of brands she personally enjoys and is aligned with.
She also runs ads on her website, creates products that she fully owns such as ebooks and meal plans, and writes books through a publisher on which she receives passive income via royalty sales.
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Think of yourself as a business
Once you start working with brands, Okamoto says you must think of yourself as a business. “That means use contracts, negotiate and offer the brand what’s going to be beneficial for them when you’re speaking to them,” she advises. “First of all, jump on a call with them to understand what they need and how you can meet those needs.
“As you go through the process, continue to check in with them. And then when you finish up, make sure you’re giving them an analytics report so that they understand the value of what they just purchased.
“Make sure you stay tuned to how many people followed them during that time on Instagram or wherever else you’re hosting the sponsored content. Make sure you can see how many people clicked on the link to purchase their product.”
After the initial contract is over, sell an upgrade, an offer to continue the partnership, says Okamoto. “When I first started, I didn’t know anything. I wasn’t signing contracts. I wasn’t negotiating. I was undervaluing myself and what I was offering to brands. I changed my route once I started thinking about myself as a business instead of just a blogger.”
Promote your stuff
Even someone like Okamoto who has hundreds of thousands of followers is frustrated at her content only being seen by a fraction of those, thanks to social media algorithms, but she encourages vegan food bloggers to “hang in there” and keep sharing your stuff.
What’s currently working is Instagram Reels, she says. “It’s the Instagram version of Tik Tok. It allows you to show your personality and highlight the work that you do in a fun way, so that’s something I’ve been experimenting with. Reels have high visibility in the algorithm on Instagram at this moment.
“Videos are doing really well too on Pinterest. Pinterest has recently started preferring videos and that’s another way to get the most out of your content. So if you’re creating videos, including Tik Tok videos or Reels, save them so you can also put them on YouTube, Pinterest and on your website. Make sure that you’re using them to their fullest.”
So, with all that in mind, are you ready to start your vegan blog?
Listen to the full interview with Toni Okamoto:
Visit the Plant Based on a Budget website