“I love what I do, I cannot wait to cook, to hear the comments from my readers and interact with them every single day. I am content, I am happy.”
Archana Doshi, of Archana’s Kitchen fame, has more than enough reasons to be happy with her life. This professional food blogger who has been featured in the an ad campaign by Google on women entrepreneurs, enjoys a readership that is in the millions. Her Youtube channel, Facebook page and Pinterest account are full of ardent fans, who swear by her recipes.
Now she is ready to build a team of people with the same passion as she has, and grow the business further. She has become synonymous with the Successful Indian Woman.
When Cucumbertown was looking at how successful is successful in the food blogging business, I felt compelled to talk to Archana and find out how she cracked the code for this level of success. So over a cup of delicious spiced tea, we got talking about her fantastic journey with food blogging; and at the end of it, I was thinking, “why in the world did I not think of doing this? And readers, I promise you that’s what you will be thinking too at the end of this story.
So if you want to be inspired by this enterprising young mom, read on!
Now you told me you love cooking. Why did you take up food blogging, rather than catering or cooking lessons?
I was always working, I was an engineer. Then I had my children, and I quit. Around two years, after I had my baby I decided I wanted to do something. It was around this time that I started getting a lot of requests from my friends for the recipe of formula baby milk and baby cereal that I had created on my own.
I did not want to use any store bought products for my kids, and so I was making everything myself.
I was also looking to keep my technical skills updated. Blogging meant that I could put my technical skills to some use and combine it with my passion for cooking. So initially I started off by blogging on Blogger about baby food, but within a few months I had moved on to my own website. Blogging about vegetarian food and healthy recipes happened automatically, somewhere along the way.
Did you start it off thinking of it as a means of livelihood?
I did not. I did not consciously think that I could make this my living. But I did have ads right from the start. But initially my only focus was on cooking, blogging, sharing photographs and interacting with my readers. It was only later that I started thinking seriously about monetization. But soon ads, cooking classes, catering, sponsored posts and youtube videos started happening one by one.
Do you think your background as an engineer and your know-how of the technical side of things made it easier for you?
Back when I started in 2007, I suppose you had to have a minimum technical skill level to be a professional blogger. Blogger was the popular platform back then and if you were blogging on a blogspot subdomain your customization options were very limited. And setting up your own website definitely required skill. Buying your website from a hosting server like GoDaddy and then getting the template from somewhere else and then getting those synced, was all hard work.
Now it’s as simple as creating an email address.
Was there a lot of expense to setting up the blog?
No. Apart from the website, nothing much. I am using my home kitchen for everything. Of course, the camera was something I had to make an investment in, and I do have a team that edits my videos, but that was much later. To convert my home kitchen into a studio, all I did really was to buy a few lights and get that setup. And they are not expensive. Something like Rs.500.
The Nitty Gritty's
How did the Youtube channel happen?
Well, between 2007 and 2011 I was doing a lot of things besides just blogging. I was taking cooking lessons, catering and generally involved in multiple activities. As a part of my cooking lessons, I was doing demonstrative cooking lessons via Google Hangouts. And 99% of the people attending the classes were people outside India. So there was a time-zone issue. So even though I was cooking, they would simply be watching me, and not cooking with me. So that’s when I realised that I could use Youtube, and people could look at the videos whenever they wanted. That’s how that happened.
Now you blog mostly about vegetarian food and eating healthy. Do you think it’s important to find a niche as a food blogger?
Yes and no. When you start off, it’s important to explore many areas. Then you need to find the one thing that inspires you, what you are passionate about. And then cook those things and write about it.
Healthy vegetarian food can actually put off a lot of people. But the fact that I have also put the tasty in the healthy, makes people appreciate what I give them.
I completely enjoy the food that I cook and I am extremely comfortable writing about it. That should be the bigger focus. Rather than finding a niche, find a comfort zone. Don’t blog about something simply because it’s trending.
How important is content vis-a-vis marketing in food blogging?
Content is definitely the most important. But equally important is knowing your audience. Engagement is hugely important. I respond to every single comment on my page. And I take their feedback. If someone tells me something is wrong, I accept that and incorporate it. It happened recently with this interaction from my Thouthe Kodel Recipe (Mangalore Cucumber Curry). A reader had commented that what I had done was incorrect. So I accepted it. Another reader then came in my defence. These are the little things that make a difference.
And this engagement gives you an insight into what people are looking for. So when I was posting cake recipes with egg, I started noticing that people were asking for an eggless version. So then I realised there is an audience for this.
Talking about trends, do you notice trends when it comes to traffic to your blog? Are there periods when it surges?
Yes. So for instance, when it’s super bowl season in the United States, the recipes for dips and snacks will increase at this point. Similarly, when it’s festival season, recipes for traditional sweets and recipes sees an increase in traffic.
Do you think there is a connection between food blogging and preservation of culture?
I definitely think there’s a connection. I think it’s the one way I’m giving back to my community.
I do traditional recipes when there’s a big festival because I feel it’s a time to reflect on your own culture. When everyone is trying to turn to the west for healthy yoghurts and dips, we tend to forget our own Kuchumber or Raita. So I do try to promote our culture through my food. Because, at the end of the day, they are precious memories for me, and I would like to create beautiful memories for others too.
You are associated with several big brands, in fact, you were the first food blogger in India to be associated with KitchenAid. Saffola Fit Foodie is another thing you are a part of. How have you managed to do this?
I do work with a lot of brands. Honestly, with KitchenAid I was connected by a distributor. And then when I started popping up in the results when people were searching for KitchenAid, they took note of that. And that’s how I was able to build a relationship with them. But the one thing I must stress here, is that I don’t work with a brand unless I personally feel strongly in favour of it. And it has to be something that I would use in my cooking. I do not associate myself with brands simple for getting commercials. And these days, you don’t work directly with a brand. Their PR agencies handle all these things. So getting hold of the PR for the brand is usually how food bloggers reach out to a brand.
How difficult is it to make a living as a food blogger?
When I started food blogging, it was much harder, especially for a food blogger from India.
Even though I had Google AdSense right from the beginning, I used to make just about $5 a month.
But I wasn’t bothered because at least it was paying off my website. But now things are so different. The digital space is so very popular in India and there are so many ads which are India-centric. Now if I were to make an estimate, in a couple of years, if you are good, you could make $500 a month in India, from ads.
Besides at that point, there were no places that you could go to in order to find a community with a particular interest in food, who could become your loyal audience. So we had to keep scouting the internet. Pinterest, Food Gawker and all these other things were not as popular back then.
Even brands trust bloggers more. They know the reach for digital marketing. And it’s cheaper than TV. So more and more brands are turning to bloggers to promote their products.
I’m not saying it’s easy now. But, it’s certainly easier. But the one thing you do need is passion. You need to love what you are doing to make it as a food blogger. Also, you need to be doing the right things, in terms of SEO, being regular, photographs, the look and feel of your website etc.
How has life changed for you with this venture?
Well, not in many ways. But now since people associate me with Archana’s Kitchen, I am careful of the image I represent. Since I'm blogging about healthy food, I would need to be fit. So I’m aware of that. With the Youtube channel as well, I have realised that it’s important to dress in a certain way. Initially, I was just wearing whatever. But I was watching Masterchef and other shows, and I noticed they all have a signature style. So I too have decided to try that out now. So I went through a phase of buying the exact same kind of clothes. I would say these are some of the things.
What are your thoughts about Cucumbertown?
It’s great! I love it. I see that you are now moving into becoming a blogging platform. Very interesting!
From starting off a blog on baby food to rubbing shoulders with Vikas Khanna and a host of other prestigious chefs in India and abroad, Archana’s journey is truly motivating. Even though, she is expanding her enterprise with more people, more projects, and more exciting ventures, Archana still finds the time to help new bloggers. She is always striving to achieve her vision, and will continue to do so.
“To create & organize resources and empower people with healthy food and eating habits using the best available products that will enable us to lead a healthy and fit lifestyle.”
To hear more from the Cucumbertown Team, connect with us. We would love to know what you think!