Each month in our AdThrive Community Facebook group, we open up the floor for our family of publishers to share recent success stories and good news, so we can celebrate their achievements and cheer them on in reaching career milestones.
In one of our recent celebration threads, Amy Palanjian, creator of Yummy Toddler Food, shared that she had fully funded her maternity leave — and my ears perked up. As incredible as it can be to run your own business, I know navigating major life changes like this can be intimidating (to say the least) when you’re self-employed. It’s hard to carve out the ability — both financially and operationally — to step away from the work. I was eager to hear more of the details behind her inspiring story!
Amy took some time out to chat with us on how she was able to plan ahead for this exciting time in her life and to share her advice for other full-time publishers looking to do the same!
Can you share a little bit about the story of your business and how you became an online content creator?
I started Yummy Toddler Food when my oldest daughter was a toddler, in reaction to my own confusion when trying to feed her. All of the rules for feeding toddlers seemed to be different from feeding babies, but she couldn’t chew a lot of “kid food” and much of it had more added sugars than I wanted to give her. The site was also a reaction to my career as a magazine editor, where every magazine I’d worked for had been shut down. Yummy Toddler Food was a place that was solely in my control.
That said, I 100% didn’t know what I was doing! I didn’t know how to adjust the settings on my camera correctly, I had no idea what SEO was, and I was kind of just throwing darts for the first few years.
Then, while I was working on staff at a magazine that I thought would likely be shuttered (I had developed a sense for these things…), I decided that I either had to stop wasting my time on the site or I had to figure out how to do it for real. I had the site redesigned and moved to WordPress from Squarespace in March of 2018, and I started listening to and reading everything I could find about SEO for food bloggers. I wanted the site to be ready to become my full-time job if I needed it, so I started treating it that way. That magazine closed that June, so it was perfect timing.
I still freelance some for other magazines and websites, co-host a podcast, and I’m currently working on a cookbook due out in Fall 2020, but the site has become my primary job.
How do ads come into play for your monetization strategy for your business?
I consider my ad revenue to be my baseline salary each month. It’s the biggest source of income I have so it’s very important to me. Affiliate income and sponsored posts are next in line.
How did you decide how much to save for maternity leave?
I saved up the baseline amount I needed to pay my expenses and contribute to my household for three months — which I expected I’d need for the three months after returning from my leave based on the way my freelance income flowed at the time. My husband was on a year-long sabbatical at the time with reduced income, so it was a little more than I’d have needed to do in other years. I started saving as soon as I learned I was pregnant so it was more doable to set the money aside.
Amazingly, my traffic shot up right around the time I had my baby in January of 2019. All of the SEO work I’d done on the site since the previous March kicked in at once and my ad revenue was high enough while I was on leave that I wound up not needing to use any of the money I’d saved. That was total luck and I completely didn’t expect that to happen.
How much time were you able to take away from work and how did you plan ahead for that?
I took off three full months from all other work. I did nothing for the first few weeks, but then did check in on things daily for a few minutes after—mostly because it was winter in Iowa and we were stuck in the house and doing so made me feel less like a shut-in!
I scheduled three months’ worth of content ahead. Typing that now seems totally insane to me, but I was determined to not have to actively work after having the baby — especially since I knew he’d be our last one. I believe I did three posts a week, with a mix of new content and updated content. (I was not doing much video at the time, thankfully!)
I also scheduled posts corresponding to each new blog post for my Instagram account via Planoly. And I used the lovely ladies at 40A to handle my Facebook page, and Virtual Powerhouse to do my Pinterest (which they do every month because they are so much better at it than I am!).
As a full-time publisher, how do you balance work and family?
As much as I can, I work during regular business hours when the kids are all out of the house and my husband is at work. Despite the fact that many people assume my site is a hobby, it’s very much my work and I treat it accordingly.
Also: Daycare. I couldn’t do it without daycare. With my first two kids, I kept them home with me for the first year and somehow worked almost full-time at the same time. It was not a good fit for me and I always felt behind and guilty about something. Having more of a divided day, with work time and then family time around it, makes me much happier and balanced. That’s a very personal decision, but I always want people to know that I do have childcare!
What is one of the coolest things to come out of being an entrepreneur and running your own business?
That I get to be in charge of how I spend my time. I also love connecting with other families and helping them to feed their kids and their families with doable recipes and sane advice. This phase of life with busy schedules and little kids is SO tough, especially when you factor in the normal developmental toddler stuff (ahem, picky eating), so I aim to reassure people that it will all be okay.
I also love that my site makes money even when I’m off doing other things and that I’m no longer stressed each month about hustling for magazine assignments!
We believe it is crucial to hear and share the stories, challenges, and successes of independent publishers. With the ad industry and digital publishing world swiftly changing, we’re always working to represent your voices so you have a seat at the table when decisions that affect your business are being made. Your stories help illustrate the wonderful world you make through quality content creation. Together, we can protect and grow this business model!
Thank you SO MUCH for sharing, Amy!