What does it take to become a successful food and health blogger? With over 107,000 Instagram followers, a hugely popular blog and a bestselling book under her belt, nutritionist Jessica Sepel has fast-become one of the most qualified people to ask on the subject.
We caught up with the pro to talk all things blogging - from what it really takes to build the requisite following and respect to turn a passion into a full blown career, to the power of social media, here are her top tips for ensuring your blog not only stands out from the rest, but also stands the test of time too.
Have a strong relatable message
“I started in a very organic way. My blog was just a personal story that I was just writing on WordPress. It was really just for me - a diary of how I was healing. I would say start with that - you need to have a story for people to relate with. You can’t be a practitioner sitting on your pedestal dictating to people what to do - we’re on the journey together. I view it like I'm holding their hands supporting them."
Identify your intention
“The intention has to be pure and honest. My intention, honestly, has never been to be a successful business or to make money. I studied health and nutrition for 5 years and my intentions have always been, a) how I can make women build a healthier relationship with food and b) teaching people how to eat well and how to de-stress."
“Have a powerful message. Complicated relationships with food, eating disorders, extreme fad dieting, restriction, feeling guilty - they’re all such big issues now. I’m talking about them so I guess that’s what’s keeping the blog successful. I’m talking about things that are relevant and probably a little bit shameful which some women are uncomfortable to talk about. I want to allow them to feel more comfortable talking about them and dealing with them by providing the right tools and steps. I think that’s what makes a blog successful - when you’re actually helping people. You’re not going to have a successful blog if it’s all about you. It’s got to be about actually making a difference and asking yourself how you’re going to help people through your website."
“I really encourage people to study health and nutrition because this industry is getting so inundated now - I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in 5 to 10 years time and what’s going to differentiate myself from another blogger. A good health blogger is one that has qualifications in my opinion. Before I studied my Bachelor of Health, I remember asking my mum whether I could just do a Diploma in Nutrition as I was so desperate and passionate to get into the industry and start practicing. I thought that as I’d I grown up in a really healthy family, I knew my stuff and that I didn’t need to study for 5 years. However, my family really encouraged me to study and I think it is the reason my blog is respected, because I took that time.
“A lot of people are rushing into it, but I worry that in 5, 10 years’ time, they’re not going to be respected or have the profile that they would have had had they studied. It’s a long-term thing. If I’d started practicing then, without having all those years of study, I just don’t think I would have been that good. I wouldn’t have had the knowledge then that I do now.”
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable
“I think one of the reasons the blog has done so well is that they can feel my authenticity. I’m not trying to be something I’m not and I’m really honest that I’m still trying to figure it out. I haven’t got all the answers yet - I still struggle, but I talk about it and I’m not afraid to be vulnerable. You have to be willing to be.
“Your intention as a blogger has to be to create a community where people don’t feel alone in whatever you’re talking about. Every day when I’m uploading an Instagram or a blog post, I’m thinking how I can create a community of support.”
Good content is key
“Your content has to be good - that’s everything. Personally, if I see one post that is bad quality or is repetitive, I’m just not going to read it. Be in touch with what content to create. If your community is loving your posts on emotional eating, you need to create more content about that.”
Don’t be afraid to say no
“Saying no when you’re out of your depth is a good tip. Even now, although I’m qualified, I’m still very careful. I’m only going to comment on things that I feel confident about. A TV show asked me recently to comment on diabetes and, although I am qualified to talk about it and give information, I don’t specialise in diabetes in my clinic. I feel that I know when to say no now and I feel protective of myself. People and the interviewer can feel it when you’re not in your zone of comfort. So it’s better to decline opportunities if you don’t feel comfortable.
“I feel people respect that more rather than me giving an average response. Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers - let people be good in their niche and their particular part of the health world. I know I’m really good at emotional eating, nutrition and recipes and lifestyle advice for example, so I focus on that."
Carry on studying
“I’m very committed to carrying on studying. I interned for a doctor when I was studying and when I finished he said, ‘Take it from me, never stop studying.’ I’ve really taken that on board, so I attend every nutrition seminar in Australia and take every possible opportunity I get to go to a health course or hear a mentor, nutritionist or doctor speak. I’m really committed to staying up to date with new information to keep me one step ahead and also, by staying connected with my community.”
Keep on top of your stats
“Every week, my assistant looks at my blog stats to see which media posts are doing well and which aren't doing well and how many people are unfollowing me on Instagram and what triggered that and why."
Have a balanced approach towards healthy eating
“My second book which I’ve just completed is about orthorexia. My goal is to really help women and I’m fighting against the extreme, even with healthy eating. There’s a chapter in my book about indulgence - I think indulgence, e.g. eating ice cream at the weekend and having a glass of wine with a friend, is part of a healthy life. Orthorexia is a fear of imperfect eating, a fear of not eating anything but healthy food which is dangerous. My blog and books are about balance with food and I encourage the 80:20 rule - 20% is imperfect eating. You have to become a flexible eater and be able to adapt to your environment - just do the best you can. I think part of a healthy life is being ok with imperfect eating at times. Relaxing with food is as important as eating healthy food and I would say that rigidity, restriction and deprivation are not part of a healthy lifestyle. You’re meant to have joy with food and you’re not meant to fixate with it in that way. It’s there to nourish us and keep us alive and well and that’s it. It’s not meant to be an obsession and it can’t be based on an emotional dependency, i.e. reward and punishment.
"My second book is about going past all these fad diets and extreme ways of eating as they never last. It’s confusing and when we get confused or overwhelmed, we get demotivated. When it's maintainable, sustainable and gentle and you make one change a week instead of say, giving up carbs forever, it’s not as daunting. People tend to follow it better. My goal is to really fight against this extreme way of eating and I genuinely care about it."
MORE GLOSS: Orthorexia - do you have an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating?
"Well, we have to be honest and say that social media is the future probably - as much as it frustrates a lot of people. Many are against it, but there’s no escaping that it does help build your business. There’s no doubt that it drives traffic to my blog, to my book and my e-book and really again, creates a community and supportive network. I hope that my community are waiting for me to upload something that will inspire them to live a healthier life that day. It’s really a form of inspiration and motivation.
"Consistency is a big part of it. I try to be very consistent - I’m always uploading an Instagram! As is being connected to what your community wants and want more of. I look at the Instagram questions, feedback and comments, the blog comments and the blogs that have gotten the most likes - for instance those on good fats, so I know I need to talk more about good fats on social media and will write a tip on them that day."
Follow your followers’ journeys
"Another thing that’s important about social media to me is expressing how people have succeeded with my book. This can either be recipe recreations via regrams or giving little testomonials about how someone did the 'Heal Your Gut program' for instance and now has no bloating to show the results of people following my plan."
Be aware of aesthetics and posting times
"I do believe your images have to be beautiful. I found that really challenging because I’m a really messy person - I’m just not interested in ‘perfect photos.’ However, I’ve now started being better at that and being more consistent with my look on Instagram - just very clean and white.
"Be aware of timings of when to upload certain posts too - being connected to your stats is really important. People in my community love dinner photos around dinner time for example. So that’s a good time for Instagram; not 3 pm when people are at their desks and too busy to look at their phones."
Create an e-book
"I created an e-book which was really successful which was a really good starting point. That’s a really great tip for bloggers, because sometimes people want a bundle of information as opposed to a blog or an Instagram. They also love a bible to access at all times. The e-book was a big turning point for me. The message was powerful and the recipes were great - quality is important. If you’re creating good content, people will download it."
See what the big guns are doing
"Follow inspirational people with big followings - see what they are doing right. Compare yourself to take on what it seems they’re doing well and take on their advice."
MORE GLOSS: How to become a successful beauty blogger
Be supportive not competitive
"People who are highly competitive and aren’t interested in supporting each other don’t do as well - they’re not focused on what matters. I’m not a competitive person - it’s not in my nature - I think the health industry is all about supporting each other. It can become a game of who has more followers and that can’t be your aim for success. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for disaster."
Know your audience
"People know me for my recipes, so I know to keep my personal life off my Instagram. People just want to see how they can live a healthier life on it, so I need to create posts that do that. They don’t want to see posts of me and my girlfriend having a cup of tea. Sometimes they want to see my travel photos as it’s inspiring to them, but they largely just want tips. So I had to start being a bit more selfless - it’s not about me on Instagram, people want advice."
Follow Jessica on Instagram @jshealth and Ayesha @Ayesha_Muttu .
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