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Hi, I'm Jaden, a professional recipe developer, food columnist and food photographer specializing in fast, fresh and easy recipes for the home cook. Most of my recipes are modern Asian! About meFast, fresh & easy recipes for the home cook.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Time to make some changes

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Last night, I had a dream that I suffered from a concussion and couldn’t remember the past 24 hours. It was such a strange feeling, dreaming of “I wonder if this is real or if this is a dream” but then concluding that it was NOT a dream. Immediate dream-panic.

At the moment of peak panic, I startled myself awake. Naturally, the first thought was “WOAH. Was that real or a dream?”

I reached out to touch my husband next to me. Skin. real.

Then our dog, Lainey who sneaks up on the bed in the middle of the night, farted like the SKANKIEST fart evvvvver. So foul you could taste it. Lainey is my totem in Inception.

Like an idiot, while trying to fall back asleep, I began furiously reciting details of the past 24 real hours just in case I landed back into the same dream. Once I got through that, I just kept going backwards, this week, last week, last month, last Christmas….trying to recall only just the good stuff, things I wanted to keep in my memory. Because, like frequent flyer miles, memory is “use it or lose it.”

I guess the best way to explain is to tell you that I “bookmarked” certain cool little memories that I like to replay in the future. If only memory recall was that easy!

Anyways, all this to get to the point of my story:

I miss writing stories on Steamy Kitchen.

When I rolled back memories of when we first started Steamy Kitchen, I was a story-teller. Not a great story teller, but I gave all five of my readers (Mom, Dad, brother, Mother in Law and Scott) a peek into my fascinated, twisted mind. Most of the little stories and vignettes were funny. I loved making my dear readers laugh or giggle.

I miss that. How did it change?

I began retracing the decisions and steps we made over the 7.5 years that I’ve been blogging on Steamy Kitchen. The company has been our full-time family business for the past 6 years.

Like any business, you apply tried-and-true practices to ensure that the business doesn’t become one the 8 out of 10 small businesses that fail.

I devoured books on marketing, branding, business essentials. I became an expert in how to create a thriving business from a blog. I spoke nearly at every food or blogging conference on the subject.

Our business was ROCKIN’. Like doubling revenue every single year rockin’. Like, “Damn, we could hit a $1 million a year soon” kind of rockin’.

We were so crazy busy that if I could have velcro’d the laptop, iPhone, iPad, Flip Camera, dSLR to my hip, I would have done it. I was wired to the hilt. I was a Tweeting maniac, quickly becoming one of the most influential food personalities on social media.

As we exceeded our numbers month after month, Scott and I began to question if there was a better way to make this business work for our family, instead of the other way around. Could we manage to create a business that allowed us to work 2 days a week? Could we achieve that yin/yang work/life balance that all the gurus say is attainable? [Read a past post where I talk about our decision on create balance]

For our business to operate and THRIVE only working 2 days a week, we had to make some changes. I’ll talk about those changes in detail another time, but gist of it is that we had to cut out the 80% of the “work” that didn’t produce results and only focus on the 20% of the opportunities and work that did the heavy lifting in terms of traffic, results, income.

Several things happened very quickly.

Yes, we were able to achieve our 2 days a week schedule. The rest of the week is for play! Family! Personal Growth! Being lazy on the couch binge-watching full seasons of shows on Netflix! Ahhhh, life was (is) grand. Our kids loved it as well. So much free time to do whatever we wanted to do.

The point of having a business is so that you can have freedom. Making the business work for us meant freedom of time and energy to pursue the wondrous things that life has to offer.

The happier we were as a family, the happier Steamy Kitchen business became. We purposely pulled the reigns back on future business growth.

More opportunities = more revenue = more growth = less time for family

If it didn’t fit our 2-day work schedule lifestyle, then we didn’t pursue it.

Perfection. Balance.

*I had originally included some $ figures on how much our Steamy Kitchen revenue changed — but decided to take it out because I’d like to devote an entire section on money, talking about money and changing beliefs about money. I think telling you exactly how much we make in this particular post without background on our views and beliefs about money isn’t productive. 

However….(you knew there was another side to this bliss, right!?)

The site became formulaic. We relied so much on the formula that allowed our lifestyle that it became a crutch.

Our formula was simple:

The 80/20 Rule really is true: If we only wanted to work 2 days out of the 7 days in a a week, we could only have the time and energy to focus on the most important aspects of the company that provided the most impact. Goodbye Google Plus. See ya later, Twitter. Sayonara Instagram. (I still use Twitter occasionally, but only when I feel like it and having something to share or say)

Tech and social media changes SO freakin’ fast. Once the darling of the social influencers, Twitter is now dying. (Whether you believe the story or not, there are more social media choices than ever before)

Sidenote: If you’re curious about what our 20% is, let me know in the comments and I can plan on another post to got into detail. Just be aware that my 20% won’t be the same as your 20%.

The most popular posts were Asian recipes of course, so we kept creating more and more Asian recipes (YAY!) We added video to each and every recipe because that’s what people wanted!

To streamline the video process, we had a template (another formula!) that we followed with graphic visuals, music background, how recipes are presented, etc. etc. to keep consistency and ease of editing. Video production was quite the learning curve. Editing video is both an art and skill, neither of which Scott nor I possessed.

We hired Cheri to help us. We love Cheri…she helped us make video super easy.

As time went on, the formula didn’t change much and it was a well-running machine. Why change something that worked!?

But the consequence is that you lay awake one night realizing Steamy Kitchen has lost its soul. You realize that all the *spark* and fun of blogging that became the catalyst for wanting to turn blog-to-business can’t fit into a formula.

All this to say that perhaps it’s time to juggle out some of the items in the 20% and mix back in some quirky things that I used to love talking about.

I don’t know what this really means just yet (this dream I started the post off with just happened last night!)

Some things I have to think about:

  • I really don’t enjoy Twitter anymore. Should I just completely abandon it with over 131,000 followers? I’m not a fan of hiring out my social media – if I can’t do it myself and I don’t enjoy it AND it doesn’t really add much to site traffic or direct revenue, then is it really worth it?
  • Pinterest is a time-suck. Fun, but a time suck. Does it add joy and happiness to my life? I like making photos easy for people to pin and we have over 13,000 followers, but I’m pretty sure I can use the time that I spend pinning recipes or stuff I can’t afford, crafts I’ll never do more wisely.
  • I love love love my email newsletter subscribers! All the little personal stories and updates in our life went from being posted on SK to being written in our email newsletter. I need to make sure that moving forward, we still keep our biggest fans feeling special. Big thanks for everyone who has subscribed, all 82,105 of you! Would you like to be added?
  • Get the kids more involved in posting. They primarily work behind the scenes in the business, with recipe ideas, taking care of all of our animals and helping make business decisions at our “Board of Directors” meetings at our family dinner table.
  • Feature more weekday recipes (less ingredients, healthier, less complicated) and then more elaborate, more time-intensive, gluttonous recipes that are really meant for weekends (when you can really slow down and enjoy the cooking AND eating process!)
  • We LOVELOVELOVE growing micro greens! I’m encouraging Scott to create an invention to make microgreens growing super-simple and inexpensive. The nutrient density of micro greens are astonishing – red cabbage micro greens has 40x higher levels of vital nutrients than the full-grown thing.
  • Maybe I should apply the 80/20 rule to all the clutter and “things” in the house??? We’re about to remodel the kitchen. Do I really need 8 silicon spatulas and 33 plastic containers (half of them have missing lids).

I’d really would love to hear your thoughts.

Jaden

p.s. I feel a little silly that I just had my very own Jerry Maguire moment.



81 Responses to “Time to make some changes”

  1. Gabrielle — 6/6/14 @ 11:15 pm

    It takes courage to stop, reevaluate, and say “maybe the path I’m on isn’t the right one anymore.” I applaud you for taking stock and thinking about where you want to go. I love your blog and your stories and am cheering you on.

  2. caryl hodgdon — 6/6/14 @ 11:27 pm

    I think the fact that you’re thinking about change and avoiding being “static and successful” is why you’re a joy to read. Fascinating family-always trying new adventures-lovely children great recipes and charming chicks and ducks-though I do worry about their proximity to the big dogs!! Keep it coming..

  3. Judi — 6/6/14 @ 11:35 pm

    Hi Jaden, Just wanted to say that I think its a great that you and your husband are rethinking things. When we declutter our minds and our home, it can be very freeing. The more you simplify the easier it gets. It gives me so much joy to give away things I just don’t need and let others use and enjoy them. I spend less time cleaning and shifting things around, and more time doing the things I love. We all collect stuff and then you realize we aren’t going to take any of it with us when we die, and how important it is to leave this amazing world a little bit better than before. All the little changes we make can make a huge impact. I just know that I am happier now in my 60″s then when I was chasing the dream of having and getting all this stuff…that just doesn’t matter anymore. So I look forward to hearing more of you and your family stories, recipes, ect. P. S. get rid of twitter…..it is just noise.

  4. Carl Jenkins — 6/7/14 @ 12:10 am

    Oh man! I sent you a reply to that last email. We got in late and my first reaction was to come to your aid. Then lo and behold, I saw the first email. So much for my lame attempt at solving world problems. I am going to bed. Still laughing at myself. Next time I must remember to look first before jumping.

  5. James G — 6/7/14 @ 12:52 am

    I am very happy to read this! I started to read your blog ages ago, and in recent years I have started to wonder what had happened to the blog that I used to enjoy so much. I think this will be a welcome change for a lot of your old-time fans.

  6. Gail — 6/7/14 @ 7:29 am

    My thoughts are similar to Cindy’s above. I was a recipe tester for the first book. I enjoyed your early posts about food photography, your family, and appearances on TV cooking shows with videos. About the time you hired an assistant, the blog seemed to lose your personal touch. For a very short period I did enter the giveaways, unsuccessfully. As to social media, I’m a heavy user of Facebook, dabbled in Twitter but it does not hold my interest, not Pinterested….tried it and it did not grab me. Looking forward to more of your great stories and photographs!

  7. Lisa — 6/7/14 @ 10:31 am

    Thank-you for this…I found your blog years ago when a British newspaper had the top 50 food blogs and at that time, I loved your blog because of the stories you shared, I bought your first cook book, I read religiously, but over the years,I stopped because it became too formulaic. On the other hand, I discovered Use Real Butter from the same top 50 article and I stop everything to read new posts. I would love to see you go back to sharing your life, especially if you are still able to keep your work life down to a few days a week.:-)

  8. Jay Majetich — 6/8/14 @ 11:19 am

    I love the 80/20 outlook, but true, when you start to rely solely on the formula for tour business, the outcome feels a bit, well, formulaic. I’ve been a fan of yours for years, feeling like you’re one of those people who are “doing it right.”

    I’ll admit, recently my interest has tapered off, and I think shaking things up a bit will give a shot of life and enthusiasm into your family, business, and writing! Good on you for recognizing what you’d like to change, and going after it!

  9. Susan — 6/8/14 @ 12:55 pm

    I like the idiom that says something like “the tail was wagging the dog”. That is how I feel when life is taking over my life. As for the 20 spatulas. Pack them away in a plastic container in your pantry for those times you need them, maybe for cooking holiday meal or testing recipes.

  10. B.AD — 6/8/14 @ 2:05 pm

    Jaden, I agree with many posted and love the blog/newsletter/recipses/and family life you have giv en up. Look forward to it and there are times you’ve made my day. I feel like Ive know you and the family for some time. You even give us tips…..like the empty water bottle separating the egg yoke…I got so much joy at watch your doing it. I dont twitter or pinrest….sp….excet to glance now ant then. Will continue to love the newsletters and what ever you decide to do. Thanks ! for what you do.

  11. May — 6/8/14 @ 3:00 pm

    Glad you are doing well. I found your blog when you first started and i really enjoyed reading your stories.I enjoyed the recipes to but it was more for your personal blog. It led me to believe that there are other species who think like me in this world = ). Rethink is always good. I have gone thru numerous rethinks…I think that is why my hubby is still keeping me around…just for the pure entertainment value of what is coming around the corner. Good luck with your rethink but your fans will be supporting you in whatever your next rethink will take us.

  12. Ron Gould — 6/8/14 @ 11:25 pm

    I feel every business (and individual) has to re-invent themselves periodically to avoid stagnation. I am working toward my third (or fourth) career, I can’t remember which. I am a very few years from retirement and look forward to following my interests rather than those of whomever pays my wages. I love the articles on your experiments with aquaponics, hydroponics and related. Please keep those going if you can. I also love your recipes. I joined after the stories started dropping out, so I missed those, but I would welcome those as well.

    Thanks and best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery!
    –Ron Gould

  13. maryhansen — 6/9/14 @ 1:30 am

    Love your blog. Agree that lots of the blogs I love have moved to have become sales sites. Thanks for coming back around to an actual blog!

  14. This was a really great post. We started blogging around the same time, but I never devoted the kind of time and energy to my blog that you have to yours. I’ve seen a lot of blogs go from personal portholes to businesses, and you know what, you’re right that they do end up being more formulaic, repetitive and not nearly so blog-like. I generally find that the most successful/popular the blog, the more the blogger ends up tied to the key revenue streams, and also tied to sponsors/advertisers, and thus, the less authentic the voice ends up being (fashion blogs are FAR worse for this though, than food blogs). I still love your blog and will still be reading, but I do love stories and anecdotes, and I’d love to read more. :)

  15. Shashi @ RunninSrilankan(dot)com — 6/9/14 @ 10:29 am

    It takes a lot to stop in the middle of such a thriving stage and re-evaluate what matters to yall – and kudos for that – somethings in life are so much more important – kids grow up so quickly! Kudos to yall!!!!

  16. Nell — 6/9/14 @ 4:59 pm

    I’d love to read more stories. That said, I like your blog, especially the recipes.

  17. Doug — 6/9/14 @ 11:37 pm

    Of course, tell stories, you are funny. That’s one of the the things that makes steamy kitchen special. Also, your thoughts on twitter are right on. 75000 followers or whatever. Meaningless compared to the real connections you make. Here’s how I feel – “Twitter, the first 4 letters says it all.” Now please remind me how to make red cooked pork belly – I poisoned myself last time;(

  18. lisa — 6/10/14 @ 9:38 pm

    I discovered your blog in 2007 and I’ve been a fan since. I think my favorite post of all time was when your husband went to LV to play the world series of poker and you had these t-shirts he could choose to wear~a t-shirt to promote your site or a poker site. Then you said he won a little bit of money and you had an “indecent proposal” moment when he got back. I enjoyed that post so much I still remember it after so many years. I also remember SK’s banner..you were splayed on a lounge chair looking like a oriental diva. These are small things that made SK an enjoyable read. Your personality shone through…quirky, funny.

    Lately, though, SK seemed too “automatic, too impersonal”. It lost your touch. Your posts and even your photos look sort of uninspired. It’s not like they’re bad but they are not as thought out as before. Mostly the food is just plopped on a dish. You’ve always been for your beautiful photos so I guess I am raising your bar. It’s not like you are posting more to compensate for the “average” posts. That ‘exfoliate chicken” is still at the top your page after almost a month. It is interesting, really, how when you decreased your efforts to 20%, your site lost its steam. It’s fine and dandy to enjoy life and prioritize family but unfortunately, that’s not how business, or anything else in life for that matter, really works. Our results are always the equivalent of what we invest. You give 20%, readers get 20% quality. It is really exhausting maintaining success but successful people don’t sit on their laurels even when they are at their peak. They might rest for awhile but they get back up and continue the grind. Because if they don’t, the less successful people who are trying to make it and are giving 80% will throw them off their mountain peak. I remember you hired the Inspired Taste couple a few years ago. I am sorry to say, their site is rockin’. They haven’t lost their fire as Jaden has. Food blogging has very different dynamics from when you started. Instead of 1000 blogs to rise above from, it is now 10,000. I can go online and find hundreds of recipes for clay pot meals. What will set you apart if you are no longer funny and quirky and entertaining? I think the question to ask yourself, will your blog as it is now become as successful as it is now if you launched it TODAY?

    From the little tidbits here and there I get from your stories, I think you are actually very genuine. I actually believe putting family first over career is something you’d actually want or do. But there are ways you can maintain the quality of your blog and maintain quality family time. Your boys are older, I am sure they can be be more involved in your business. Recipe girl’s RECIPE BOY. her son blogs, too. I think that’s pretty cool. She gets to share her job with the son and at the same time, gives him a sense of ownership.

  19. Cindy — 6/11/14 @ 4:31 pm

    Back in 2007, I excitedly checked your site daily. It was so good! During the past few years, there are few updates. Lately, I’d only check once a month or so. The posts were not as good, like you’ve lost the fire and merely going through the motions to keep your name out there. You’re right, it became a formula and it showed.

    I’m glad you recognize the need shake it up a bit. My vote would be for more Asian recipes and micro green stories.

    I’m looking forward to the changes. Thank you Jaden.

  20. Maryann — 6/11/14 @ 7:08 pm

    A while ago I made a comment on how I found your blog. It was through an article in Creative Loafing (or what ever it was called then). You responded that you were “gobsmacked” , my word, that I remembered that article written so many years ago. What made me seek out your blog was your funny take on an every day activity that we can all relate to. While I love your recipes and the occasional “slice of life” articles it just hasn’t felt the same lately. Jaden, just be who you are. You have a gift for telling a story. Go with it.

  21. Tarrant — 6/12/14 @ 1:37 pm

    Way to go Jaden. I adore the idea of you telling your stories and being less a formula. (Yes, it is a great formula because hey, if I need a recipe I know I can trust yours…but I like the story because I like YOU)

  22. angelu — 6/13/14 @ 6:31 pm

    Is there a decline in site traffic? Usually, people reevaluate the “formula” when the formula no longer works. I love your site and I have been a follower for years but I have to agree, it is no longer the same caliber as it used to be. If it’s only the recipe I need, I can just go to all recipes or food network. But people read blogs because of the personal spin given by the blogger. You have built readership from your old style and we are here because it is already a habit. But how will you now stand out and gain new readers? I use to love your photos but seriously, that aged spicy sauce looks messy and uninviting. I know it is hard to make a video and then set up for photos but if you are going to do something, it has to be bat effort. I also find the lay out of the homepage jumbled and confusing. It is how pioneer woman site is set up but then she is a league all her own. I love simply recipes because it is neat and easy to find things. I do understand how we need to put family first but it is not very assuring to hear that hey I am now going to give a half a.. Job because I am now successful and I have to work on more important things. It is an injustice to the readers who have supported you along the way. Reading that reminded me of a burger stand in the Philippines. It started as a small hole in a wall kind of place but grew to a dozen branches in just a few years. Their burgers were fat and juicy and marvelous. I went home last month an I couldn’t wait to try their burgers.. I was sorely disappointed. I could barely see the meat between the buns! I sure am not going back again to that place again. The point of the story is, why are you giving us skinny, dried outbeef patties in our bus when we helped your business grow to a dozen branches? :)

  23. Marisa — 6/13/14 @ 9:47 pm

    I hope that in the new “formula” there’s still room for talking about your urban farming efforts. I *love* those posts.

  24. Deborah Cartwright — 6/14/14 @ 3:15 pm

    Great blog and I definitely think you have come up with something! I’m 39 and I don’t “get” pinterest or Twitter. Do i have a twitter account yes. Do I use it, no. I think your Twitter followers will understand. Keep being you and I would love to read more personal tales mixed in with your great knowledge of food/cooking!

  25. Alice Wrobley — 6/14/14 @ 9:23 pm

    Good to know you are feeling better. The healing process provides time to think, and sometimes realize the more important things on which to concentrate.
    For me, I gave up FB and Pinterest (never one worked for me), but I have grown to like Twitter. I’m a photographer and I enjoy sharing photos with people here in U.S. & other countries. It works for me; I now follow you on Twitter; just never thought to follow you before (you aren’t a photographer that I know of), Anyhow, I look forward to seeing your posts.
    I like your blogs & I believe you should write just exactly what you want…that’s what a blog is for…right?
    Re. recipes, I want healthy, fresh & tasty Asian recipes which aren’t too complicated for everyday cooking…and sometimes for entertaining. I like your personal comments and thoughts; they are important.
    I personally am going wheat & gluten free, so it’s difficult to find fav recipes to fit…but am always looking. When I find a recipe that I like & fits me, I will use it often & be thankful for whoever supplies it to me.
    Thank you for asking for comments; I look forward to your future recipes & thoughts.
    Alice Wrobley
    Twitter: @AWrobley

  26. Joon — 6/15/14 @ 8:28 am

    Hi, Jaden. Am glad you had the dream and made the decision. Another friend told me a while back she stopped going to your blog as it no longer caught her interest. And, yes, kitchen and general house clutter need to be cleared once in two years if not yearly! Recently we threw or gave away or sold a third of our stuff, stored the rest in a small apartment and loaded the essential stuff into an RV and went travelling all over Europe. Now that was a liberating exercise indeed.

  27. Laurie — 6/19/14 @ 10:26 pm

    Hi Jaden, I agree….it’s your art of story-telling and honesty that attract readers to Steamy Kitchen. Good luck with your reflection on your business. Hope we will still be enjoying your efforts for years to come!

  28. ivan — 6/29/14 @ 9:09 pm

    Jaden,

    Glad you are having a rethink! I stopped reading your blog as it lost your fun and character, came out less often, and became a predictable business. Even the format looks like a business with giveaways, not a human being who writes, yes, writes a funny blog every week or so. I’d love for you to have income, and us to love your writing. Back to basics, dropping Pinterest and twitter are great ideas. Scott is amazing, let’s get more of his input, too.

  29. Janet — 7/8/14 @ 2:25 pm

    I have been following you (and loving everything about your work) since nearly the beginning – when you commented on my NKB post I couldn’t have been more grateful or star-struck. In my opinion, you are today as you were then… Genuine, generous and passionate about all things that REALLY matter in this life. I don’t agree that SK has lost its “soul” as you said or that anything else is fundamentally “wrong” with it at all… Like you/your family, it has evolved – grown up and is reflective of the growth you’ve experienced. I don’t feel slighted in the least bit!

    ENJOY your life! Just as the 80/20 rule is true so is the saying that goes:

    “No one on their death bed has ever said they wished they spent more time at work!”

    xo

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