How to Make Serious Money as an Instagram Influencer

Host 0:03
Welcome to the Blogger Genius Podcast, brought to you by MiloTree. Here’s your host, Jillian Leslie.

Jillian Leslie 0:11
Hello everybody, welcome back to The Blogger Genius. Today my guest is Maria Koutsogiannis from the blog, Food by Maria. She’s a food stylist, she’s a recipe creator, and an unbelievable photographer.

But really, she is an Instagram influencer. She is one of the biggest influencers I’ve interviewed so far on the podcast. She has over 170,000 followers. She’s been able to build an incredibly successful business off the platform. If you are interested in learning about Instagram, this is definitely the episode for you.

She shares about her staff. She shares about her process and also she shares about how she is expanding beyond Instagram to build her business.

So without further ado, here is my interview with Maria. Maria, welcome to the show.

Maria Koutsogiannis 1:09
Hello, Jillian. Thanks for having me today.

Jillian Leslie 1:13
Okay, I found you because I was looking at some sites that use MiloTree, our pop-up, and you use it, and you are a food blogger. And I think you are growing Instagram with your MiloTree pop-up. Does that sound kind of right to you?

Maria Koutsogiannis 1:29
Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly where we’re using it.

Jillian Leslie 1:32
Okay, so you are a beautiful food blogger. And so I want to know how you got started in this and what your entrepreneurial journey has been like.

Maria Koutsogiannis 1:45
So honestly, it all sort of happened not by chance, like I didn’t try, but it was something that I was thinking about doing for a really long time. And I ended up in a situation where I wasn’t exactly happy. I was studying accounting.

So I finished my accounting, I ended up being an accountant in the UK. I was a bit miserable and I was like, You know what, let’s do something else.

But the reason that it sort of ended up on my lap per se, is because I was diagnosed with IBS after suffering with an eating disorder for six years.

So what essentially happened was, they were like, “Hey, you have IBS, we’re going to give you something called a FODMAP. Have a look at it. There’s a list of foods you can’t eat and here are a list of foods you can eat.”

And immediately I was sort of like, well, this sort of looks like an eating disorder but on a piece of paper. So I was like, I don’t think I’m going to do this. I mean, I followed the general guidelines for a little bit because I was in a lot of pain.

So I was willing to do anything to alleviate like the gas, the bloating, the constipation, the constant feeling of like carrying an extra 300 pounds on my body. But then before I knew it, I was like, You know what, no, this isn’t working. Like I’m obsessed with what I eat again, and I don’t think this is healthy.

So what I did was I created an account called Food by Maria to document for myself what I was eating and what was sort of triggering me. Obviously I like had family members follow and my friends, but like I didn’t anticipate to sort of, you know, hit the thousands mark.

And then basically, the rest was history. I was really bad at photography for the first two years. I was very inconsistent. I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

I was always wondering like, why aren’t I growing? Because at this point, I was like, “I have no other choice. I don’t want to go back to accounting, let’s make this work.”

Jillian Leslie 3:48
Okay. What year is this?

Maria Koutsogiannis 3:51
I don’t remember. I get some of the years confused, but I think 2015. I think.

And then the end of 2015, I got my dad to buy me a camera and that’s sort of the game-changing point. I went from like a thousand followers to I think in 2016 or 2017.

This is why it gets so confusing because the years — when you’re having this much fun, you don’t really tell time.

Jillian Leslie 4:24
I like that.

Maria Koutsogiannis 4:25
I hit like 50,000 followers and then I hit 100,000 followers. It all happened very quickly.

Jillian Leslie 4:30
Wow. Okay. How did you do that? And this is all on Instagram.

Maria Koutsogiannis 4:35
Yes, yes. Instagram was a bit different back in the day. You’d get reshared a lot. People like Whole Foods, The Huffington Post, Huff Post, Paste.

Other food bloggers would repost you and you would just grow differently. The algorithm back then was much, much different to what it is now.

So I feel like I got in at a good time and now it feels as though you have to really work to grow, which is fine. I’m happy working, but it’s just a different environment.

But yeah, basically, that’s where we’re at. So my photography started to get better, we launched our first ever website. I think it was October 15.

Jillian Leslie 5:21
So initially then, Food by Maria was just on Instagram or you also had your blog?

Maria Koutsogiannis 5:28
Okay, so I wasn’t taking it very seriously. But I did decide just before I bought my camera in October 2015 that I was going to buy a camera and start a blog.

So on October 1, I did start a blog, but this is still in the middle of not really knowing what I was doing. This is the part, remember where I said I had no other choice, I wanted to make Food by Maria work. But I still had no idea what that meant.

So the blog was subpar, beautifully curated by my friend, Caitlin. But it was lacking things like SEO, I wasn’t creating the right recipes. I wasn’t talking to my audience accordingly. I wasn’t really telling people about the recipes on the blog. It was just very patchy.

But I think that’s sort of what needed to happen in order to learn. Because since I was young, I’ve always been like the type of person who learned through experience, and that’s always been the best for me.

That’s basically the evolution of Food by Maria. I was just continuously exploring photography, learning about videography, learning that I didn’t have to do everything and that I could hire out.

So for instance, I have someone who helps with my videography now, and in the past, I was always like, Oh, my gosh, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this. Well, if you’re not good at something, you should just hire somebody who is.

Jillian Leslie 6:54
So what does that mean that you hire out video?

Maria Koutsogiannis 6:59
I have a videographer.

Jillian Leslie 7:00
And does your videographer come to your house, and you make the recipes and your videographer shoots them? Or is somebody creating the recipes for you, like, you know, doing the video of the recipe?

Maria Koutsogiannis 7:12
So the first one,. They’ll come to our studio or setting space or wherever it is we’ve chosen to shoot and will create the magic, he’ll go home and edit it, and then he’ll send me the final copy.

Jillian Leslie 7:26
Got it. Okay. First of all, who is the “we”? Who’s on your team?

Maria Koutsogiannis 7:31
Right now, today, there are… Gosh, I don’t even know how many. There is Raquelle who helps with my collaborations, sort of like a marketing representative or maybe like a PR in a sense. I have someone whose name is Elisa who helps with some of my blog posts and my Pinterest.

And just like the general vibe of kind of the aesthetic. Well, let’s say I create an image, she’ll kind of take that photo and she’ll turn it into like a fun collage or create gorgeous pin photos for it. So just like keeps Food by Maria on brand with the things that I don’t necessarily have time to do when I’m shooting.

We have someone called Vivian, she’s an intern who helps with all of my comments on Instagram. We have Eli, who also does the videography, as we mentioned. So everything from editing, shooting and compiling the final product that is then sent to the client.

What else do we have? We have my team over in New York — Barrel, they are the website developers. We have Caitlin who’s my designer from Pebbled Creative.

I have other humans… humans. A friend of mine, Chloe, who comes over sometimes to help me prepare food. There’s photographers that will help me like, you know, if I need my hand or a more lifestyle shot.

But other than that, that’s basically the team that I’ve grown in the past year, that’s happened in the past. Yeah.

Jillian Leslie 9:15
Okay. So let’s talk about then, it looks like you have a big operation and you’re monetizing this mostly working with brands, right?

Maria Koutsogiannis 9:27
At the time being, yeah. Obviously not the best way because obviously that means that a lot of them are coming from Instagram.

And what we’re hoping to do is make it so that Instagram collaborations maintain themselves as they are, so as many as I’m doing a month now.

But we’re hoping to sort of monetize Food by Maria and a sense of maybe more passive income, more cookbook sales, more app sales, more revenue generation from the blog itself through ads, or maybe e-book sales, through products and other like entrepreneurship ventures that we take on.

Because if you think about it, ultimately, Instagram can’t be my sole income forever because Instagram is continuously changing so you just never know what happens. So the goal with Food by Maria right now is to create that umbrella and figure out which avenue is the best for revenue stream, and then go from there.

But collaborations have been amazing for us and we don’t plan on changing that at all. If anything, we’re going to continue growing, but just making sure that there’s something else that’s generating more. Does that make sense?

Jillian Leslie 10:40
Yep, totally. Now, so let’s then dive deep into Instagram food collaborations. Walk me through the process. And most of these brands are finding you on Instagram.

Maria Koutsogiannis 10:49
Yeah, and actually, a lot more recently through my blog as well, through like the Contact tab. There’s two ways this will happen or maybe three.

One, I’ll reach out. Two, the client or the brand will reach out. Three, referral.

So this can look anything like, “Hi, Maria. I represent X brand and I would love to work with you. Please send over your rate sheet, your media kit.”

So this can go in any of three ways, basically. So a client will reach out, I will reach out, or I’ll be referred by someone.

So if a client reaches out to me, what basically happens is, they’ll be like, “Hello, my name is Michelle and I represent ‘brand.'”

And they’ll say, “This is the scope of the campaign, here are the deliverables, or we’re hoping to work this budget, please tell us what you can give us with that. Please send over your rate sheet and media card,” and maybe like a portfolio sometimes.

So Raquelle will then send over like a file that we have, some examples of my work, some videos that Eli and I have put together, my rate sheet and my media kit. And then we wait, and then the negotiation process basically happens.

And then the same thing would happen if I did it, but obviously a bit different. So I just like, “Hello, my name is Food by Maria. I am the founder of Food by Maria. You can find my Instagram link here. Here is a link to my website.

I am a health, food, fitness representative in the plant-based world. I would love to discuss or chat with someone from your marketing team to hopefully connect and collaborate and create some gorgeous content. Please feel free to reach out to me. Attached I have included my media kit I would love to chat to you.”

And then once again, you just wait. Or other times it will be like someone I have worked with in the past and they’ll be like, “Hey, Maria created gorgeous content. Would love to set you up with her. Please feel free to ask her any questions.”

And then that’s sort of what happens. So if you continue to create really great content for these clients, people talk in that world and they end up referring you.

Jillian Leslie 13:23
Got it. When you’re reaching out to a brand, are you emailing them? Are you direct messaging them? How are you doing that?

Maria Koutsogiannis 13:33
I will typically direct message them like a curated for them DM just saying like “We’re aligned, I believe in your product, or I’ve tried your product, or I would love to try your product and share it with like my followers. If you’re interested, please send me like an appropriate email to someone in marketing or whoever deals with collaborations.”

Then they’ll typically respond with yes, no, and an email. I would then take that email and send them another email with all of the information that I had mentioned before.

Jillian Leslie 14:12
Got it. Okay. And so explain your media kit a little bit. You said it had some videos, anything? What does it actually look like? Is it just a bunch of links to things?

Maria Koutsogiannis 14:26
No. It’s really, really like high-end… Let me just pull it up.

Jillian Leslie 14:30
Is it like a PDF?

Maria Koutsogiannis 14:33
Yep, that’s PDF, you can’t manipulate it. Where are we… here we are.

So my media kit has like photography on it and a little bit about myself. You know, let them get to know me, things like where I’m from, what I believe in, what I’ve been doing, how long I’ve been doing this, some example work, some of my light and airy, more moody, more lifestyle shots just to give them an example of what I create.

There’s a full bio about myself saying how many Instagram followers, how many blog views we have. And then there’s past partnerships lists where I have some of the best brands we’ve worked with. We just put their logos, and then let’s work together.

So things like sponsored post, recipe development, brand ambassador, Instagram videos, event hosting, YouTube video, product reviews, food photography, or product placement.

And then a link to all my socials with their audience, and then “say hello”. So for more details, pricing or general media inquiries, please contact Hello at Food by Maria. So it’s a very gorgeous media kit.

It gives them an example of exactly what they’ll be seeing. It’s your elevator pitch put on paper.

Jillian Leslie 15:56
And how many pages is it in your PDF?

Maria Koutsogiannis 16:00
They’re like thinner, longer ones, but I would say like… and it’s 6, but it’s only actually like 3 because of the way the length is. Got it.

Jillian Leslie 16:12
Got it. Yeah. Okay. So a brand, let’s say, and by the way, currently, how many Instagram followers do you have?

Maria Koutsogiannis 16:20
I think we’re at 170 right now.

Jillian Leslie 16:22
Okay. And is that really what brands are mostly drawn to? So do most brands want you to be posting about their products on Instagram? Or the recipes that you’ve developed with their products? Or are they saying “we also want a blog post and Pinterest pins,” that kind of thing.

Maria Koutsogiannis 16:44
Honestly, it depends. I feel like what catches the clients’ eyes, my photography, and then the following, and then the the related price. So if the price speaks good to the followers, then they’re like, “Okay, let’s get it on Instagram.”

If they have a higher budget then they’ll put it on the blog too, then they get even more photos. Pinterest is sort of included because it benefits me as well. If it’s a lovely recipe, which it always is, is we’re getting more traction with people over on Pinterest.

So yeah, what we’ve been noticing a lot lately is we do a lot of retainers. So we like to get the brands that we love working with us on a more long-term basis. So we have prices curated for 12 months, 6 months and 3 months, which have been really good for us.

It creates consistency. And not only that, but our followers see that we are actually true to the brand. So it creates that brand loyalty. And then the followers actually see like, this isn’t just a one-off, she really believes in this product. Like, she’s clearly sharing it because she likes it.

Jillian Leslie 17:55
So like, if, for example, it’s a six-month engagement, how many posts would that be over 6 months?

Maria Koutsogiannis 18:03
That varies. But according to my post, like my retainer offer is just one a month. So coupled with a blog post, the recipe development, some stories, the Pinterest, the Facebook, and obviously all the edited images that they own .

Jillian Leslie 18:22
Got it. Can you give me an example of like your ideal brand that you work with? Or like a couple of your favorite brands?

Maria Koutsogiannis 18:32
Oh, gosh. There’s so, so many. I loved working with Google. That was a lot of fun. Eve’s was great. Silver Hills. Some of my dream clients are people like I really would love to work with Field Roast or Beyond Meat. Oh, gosh, there’s so many. Or you’ve been just like collaborating with someone like Amazon.

I don’t know. The possibilities are really endless. Meetings Fun Chefs. There’s so many cool collaborations in the works right now. And just the doors that they open are really awesome. We’re actually attending an amazing summit that I can’t actually say much about.

But in two weeks, we’re going to Toronto for a huge event that we’re really, really lucky to be invited to. I think I’m one of 10 people chosen in Canada to go to this to represent our country. So it’s really cool. It’s really exciting.

Jillian Leslie 19:34
What would you say, given your experience working with brands, what are some of the things that where brands overreach, or, you know, issues that you’ve had with brands, and then how you deal with that?

Maria Koutsogiannis 19:51
That’s one of the reasons why I actually have Raquelle because I feel like that really puts a strain on my creativity. But what happens is sometimes maybe the brand won’t communicate or maybe we won’t understand their communication, or maybe they’ll be an err in shipment or product, or maybe there wasn’t enough clarity in the…

Why am I blanking? In the contract. So maybe it just didn’t make it clear exactly what they wanted, but based on the contract is what we did. Does that make sense?

So sometimes we don’t elaborate enough. But I mean, other than that, we worked with nothing but amazing, amazing clients. And I think the worst that’s ever happened to us was we got the wrong product and the content was shot, and we had to redo it.

But I mean, other than that, we’ve been pretty fortunate. People are good to us. When you create good content, you get good stuff in return.

Jillian Leslie 20:57
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Okay. Now in terms of your content, the first thing I was drawn to was how beautiful it is. And you were not a photographer.

Maria Koutsogiannis 24:52
No, no.

Jillian Leslie 24:53
And so how did you create such a beautiful style? Your stuff has a real style to it.

Maria Koutsogiannis 25:03
Oh, thank you. Honestly, trial and error. Surrounding myself with people who I’m very inspired with and their photography and constantly trying to learn, exploring different types of light, owning pretty good camera gear, knowing when to shoot and how to shoot, watching YouTube videos.

Practicing, never settling. It’s like any other business, right? Like, how does a man who you know fixes cars become the best person who fixes cars? Why do people constantly go back to him? It’s because he’s never just stagnant. He’s always learning. He’s doing something different. He’s talking. He’s letting people know.

It’s all a trial and error process sort of. But I honestly think following people who inspire you or people that you look up to is huge. Because if they’re constantly growing and changing, then I mean, naturally, you should want to grow and change too because the only thing in life that’s permanent is change.

Jillian Leslie 26:08
I agree. I say that a lot. I say that a lot. And what does it feel like then to be an Instagram influencer, meaning you’re also a personality? And how is that for you?

Maria Koutsogiannis 26:26
For me, it just feels like I’m talking to 50 or 100 people. I’m not really afraid of the number behind it. You hear a lot of influencers, if you will, I would rather just be called someone you look up to.

I deal a lot with like worrying about what other people are going to think or if you post that or if you post this. I think it’s a great platform to share creative, positive, good energy, and just show people how anyone can do this.

I was actually sharing some photos from the past on my stories today and just how much my photography has changed. And it’s really cool to see because a lot of people sort of see your chapter 20 when they’re in their chapter 1.

And they think like, holy hell, she’s so talented. But meanwhile, if you show them your chapter 1, they’re like, Oh, but we’re relatable. It’s like she just started a bit earlier than me.

So I don’t know, I just use it as an opportunity to sort of just stay real, stay honest. I have a pretty foul mouth. I swear a lot. So I’m very like just to the point upfront, I am who I am.

And I think a lot of the people that are on Food by Maria just know know what they’re in for, like, raw, honest. They’re just excited to be there.

Jillian Leslie 27:56
Got it. Now do you collaborate or have a community of other food bloggers?

Maria Koutsogiannis 28:05
I was actually having this conversation with a friend the other day. No. But it’s definitely hitting the market. Like, we’re noticing that because collaborations and paid partnerships are becoming so big, that why does a client want to couple with, like someone else who’s just as incredible as the human they want to work with, and like, create that like powerhouse.

So if I collaborated with someone to my caliber, that would be amazing to the client. But I don’t do that yet, but it’s totally something that I look forward to talking about with some of my friends who are really talented.

Jillian Leslie 28:45
Got it. And do you answer your DMs like every single one? Or do you have a team who helps you?

Maria Koutsogiannis 28:51
No. No one deals with my DMs. That’s a bit private just because of the eating disorder background, so I get a lot of pretty personal messages.

I have someone who does all my comments because that’s just a lot of work. But in turn, I typically do them on myself, I can’t get to every single one because that’s mentally draining, but I try my best.

Jillian Leslie 29:15
Okay. And how much of the time do you talk openly about your past and the struggles that you’ve gone through?

Maria Koutsogiannis 29:22
It’s pretty balanced. I find a way to sort of talk about it almost every day but in a very down-to-earth reminder way, sort of, like, this is what I’ve been through, you can push through this in any different aspect of your life.

So maybe you haven’t suffered through an eating disorder, but I know what it feels like to feel like shit. So like, if you’re trying to come out of something, then just know it’s possible because I did it too.

Or even just, you know, what I had a conversation about earlier today with photography and how you can always improve. So things like that I feel like are very inspiring for people just to know that you’re not just this human on this pedestal. It is achievable to create an Instagram account and earn all your revenue from it.

Or perhaps, like, grow the strength to leave your relationship or quit your job, or I don’t know, just speak up for yourself. It’s just a very safe space where I feel like I just share my every day and then through that, it’s sort of because of my eating disorder, I can now do this. Or I’m glad I did this, or I’m glad I experienced that.

So I don’t think I necessarily speak on eating disorders every day but I certainly use my experiences to show others how they can sort of change too.

Jillian Leslie 30:47
Got it. I think that’s really inspiring. Now, just in terms of content, how many recipes, say, a week, are you creating? How many posts are you putting up? Like, what’s your schedule like?

Maria Koutsogiannis 31:04
For sure. So in terms of like Instagram posts, I’ll do anything from, like, one to two a day probably.

Jillian Leslie 31:14
And these are in your feed?

Maria Koutsogiannis 31:16
Yep. I will do maybe 1 to 3 blog posts a week depending on how many paid collaborations versus like the free content that I love giving comes out.

I’m trying to think what else.

Jillian Leslie 31:37
How about stories?

Maria Koutsogiannis 31:39
Stories, every day. Honestly, just as however much I feel like talking that day, but typically every day. I like baking with them every day.

Jillian Leslie 31:58
I was just having a conversation today with a friend about this, which is, which do you think in today’s world, people are more engaged with — your feed or your stories?

Maria Koutsogiannis 32:09
I think if you’re engaged in your stories, then people will engage in your feed. I guess the answer is stories just because it really shows your true colors and who you are — and people want to see that, if you are real.

We see that a lot too in people… like the feed that you see on Food by Maria is put together, edited, aesthetic, gorgeous composition, the right colors. It’s really like, hello, this is pretty food.

But then if you go to my stories, it’s a mix of like, oh, this girl has acne scars, she’s not wearing makeup, she doesn’t care about what her stories look like. She’s just sharing a message.

And then it’s like a mix of sharing my beautiful photography and then my story or maybe swipe up to read this or check out this new podcast. So it’s a really fun blend of like the reality of my life but sort of the beautiful business that I also have.

Jillian Leslie 32:58
Got it. So it’s like you get to see the behind-the-scenes.

Maria Koutsogiannis 33:01

Jillian Leslie 33:03
The imperfections.

Maria Koutsogiannis 33:05
Yes, absolutely.

Jillian Leslie 33:07
The aspirational and kind of what it takes to get there.

Maria Koutsogiannis 33:11

Jillian Leslie 33:13
Okay. That’s interesting. Do you shoot and do all this at your home, in a studio? What does your work setup look like?

Maria Koutsogiannis 33:25
It’s in my kitchen. And then I have like a big dining room window that I typically shoot by. I used to shoot outside. But when the content flow got bigger, it was just not as convenient to be outside.

Jillian Leslie 33:40
You’re in Canada, right?

Maria Koutsogiannis 33:42

Jillian Leslie 33:43
So you don’t get a lot of sun in the wintertime.

Maria Koutsogiannis 33:48
I mean, we live in the brightest city in North America. We have 333 days of pure blue skies. But yes, you’re right —

Jillian Leslie 33:58
My gosh, where are you?

Maria Koutsogiannis 33:59

Jillian Leslie 34:01

Maria Koutsogiannis 34:02
Yeah, you’re right. Sometimes in the winter, the sun will come up at 8 and it will go down at 4. But we rarely have… where do you live again?

Jillian Leslie 34:11

Maria Koutsogiannis 34:12
Yeah. So you guys are like pretty bright but we don’t ever have like gray smugness like it’s never like London or Vancouver weather.

Jillian Leslie 34:21
Got it. Yeah. So you to you can use your window.

Maria Koutsogiannis 34:26
Absolutely. But you have to make sure you hit it at the right time or else you end up with kind of like dim light. We live in a condo so that doesn’t obviously speak to everyone in Calgary. But I have this big building covering some of my light, so I have to be strategic about when I shoot.

Jillian Leslie 34:42
When you shoot. And then how do you get inspired in terms of new recipes?

Maria Koutsogiannis 34:46
So new recipes, I’ll ask my followers about or I’ll sort of go on to my blog and see what’s been doing well. I am known for my savory comfort food. So things like my one pop coconut curry noodle bowl, my black bean meatballs, my pot stickers with the chili aioli sauce.

My moussaka lasagna, grandma’s spaghetti sauce. So as you can see, the trend is quite like comforting, but still very dinner style. So I kind of just play on that. And that’s what I love to eat.

Obviously, I love a dessert. But my photography has never been very focused on like sweet treats. So I always just stay safe. And maybe the ratio is like 90% savory and 10% like sweets.

And just based on that, I kind of like explore Pinterest for photography ideas. Or maybe the client that I’m working with will have a specific like, if I’m working with a beet company, then maybe I’ll have like a beet with like a vegan blue cheese and, oh my gosh, a walnut and a watercress type salad with like a reduction or balsamic dressing.

So exactly that process you heard me say there is like how I think out loud. Like, what are the flavors and textures that I want in my mouth? What is it that I want to see? How is this going to photograph? Is that color going to wilt? Is it going to look ugly? How am I going to prepare this?

So there’s just so many things you kind of have to think about from the beginning to end. And as you get better at blogging and content creation, development, and just learning what your client wants, and what you need to execute the best possible content, you get good at that.

You create these steps and you sort of go through them. And what I’ve noticed is when I try and skip a step, I screw up everything. And I know it’s like, Oh, you think that you wouldn’t because you’ve done this for so long? No, there is a system in place for a reason. You have to really think about it.

Do you need everything for props? Yes. Don’t ever skip a step. It’s as simple as that.

If you want to get paid good money, if you want clients to continue working with you, if you want, you know, to execute great content then just follow this method, which I’ve sort of put together for myself, and it just ends up working out.

Jillian Leslie 37:11
Well. I know you’re making video? Do you make video for every single recipe?

Maria Koutsogiannis 37:16
No, that’s extra. Well, it’s not extra. But they have to ask for it.

Jillian Leslie 37:20
Okay. And then do you make video for your own recipes that aren’t sponsor?

Maria Koutsogiannis 37:25
No, not yet because I pay Eli. So we’re not in a position to do that quite yet. But in the future, I do hope to bring him on. You know, we’ll have a conversation, see how many days a week he can help me, what types of lifestyle shots we can do, and then we go from there.

Jillian Leslie 37:40
Got it. Okay, how important if at all is Facebook to you?

Maria Koutsogiannis 37:45
To be honest, I never really got into Facebook. I know that it’s important. That’s something that we’re going to start exploring mid-year getting that. We’re going to create like a Facebook community. We’re relaunching the website.

So just create a community of people with questions who want answers. We’re creating something called a premium content package. So we’ll have conversations and discussions about that there.

But I know that Facebook is great for ads, and obviously, leaving that niche and exploring different demographic and age group, and there’s obviously different content that needs to be shared on Facebook as well because Instagrammers are so different. Two faces.

Jillian Leslie 38:30
How about YouTube then?

Maria Koutsogiannis 38:31
Not yet, but also on our bucket list. As soon as we narrow down like 10 great videos, we’ll launch, but you need to have like good content first, and then we’ll start promoting it.

Jillian Leslie 38:42
Got it. So it’s funny, because again, Instagram really has been your platform.

Maria Koutsogiannis 38:48
Yes, it has.

Jillian Leslie 38:51
How often? How much time are you on Instagram per day?

Maria Koutsogiannis 38:55
I think my phone says three hours.

Jillian Leslie 38:58
A day, on Instagram.

Maria Koutsogiannis 39:00

Jillian Leslie 39:02
And do you like it personally or has it become more of a work platform?

Maria Koutsogiannis 39:07
Well, I mean, it is my work,so it is certainly a work platform. And that’s what also keeps my mental mindset in check. Because if I was spending three hours on Instagram and it wasn’t my job, I would go to a doctor. I will ask some help.

But because it’s my job, then I’m not doing enough work, if I’m only spending three hours a day on one of my largest revenue streams, then that tells you, you know, we’re doing okay.

It’s just about figuring out that balance. But to answer your question, I do really like Instagram.

Obviously, there are a lot of like mental health issues that come with working for yourself, for being glued to your phone. But I’ve just tried very hard to remind myself, this is your job. Someone is sitting at home in front of their computer working and I’m sitting in front of my phone working.

That’s all it is. So I just try and remind myself, this is your job, this isn’t an addiction, this isn’t anything. This is just what you do for a living.

Jillian Leslie 40:09
Got it. And to continue to grow your Instagram followers. I know you are using MiloTree as a way to do it by adding it to your blog. Are you also reaching out then to other people leaving comments, following other people? Like what is your strategy in that respect?

Maria Koutsogiannis 40:27
On Instagram the platform? That’s what Vivian does, too, is we’re constantly engaging, you know, the people I follow.

We encourage. There’s a community where you obviously have a sense of like communication, you let them know that you love their photo, or that you tried their recipe or that, you know, just in general, like, Hey, I hope you’re doing great.

When you do get a bit bigger, though, and this is obviously something I need to work on, you do forget to engage with other people other than who you’re following, because you want them to discover you too.

But it’s just a balance of realizing you can’t do everything at once. So we’re trying our best, we engage as much as we can. I try my best to engage as much as I can. But, it’s tough.

So as we continue to grow, or as I expand my team, maybe Vivian will start doing more of that. She does already help a bit. But I mean, I think according to Instagram in order to like, really do all, you have to do like a couple hours of that a day. Like you need to be glued to your phone.

Jillian Leslie 41:30
Yes. That’s definitely not healthy.

Maria Koutsogiannis 41:32

Jillian Leslie 41:34
Okay. And in terms of just briefly, hashtags, how do you think about hashtags?

Maria Koutsogiannis 41:40
Oh, I’m the last person you should ask hashtags. I’ve been using the same hashtags for so long. I don’t want to get too much into like the finicky step of it. I’m sure it has a lot to do with it. I listen to Jenna Kutcher a lot and she does say that switching up her hashtags and stuff helps.

But I haven’t explored that yet. But that’s certainly like, as we grow, we’re really changing it, we’re growing, we’re hoping to, you know, obviously expand. And with that comes more research and learning more about every little aspect of your business.

How are we going to continue to grow? Improve YouTube? Facebook, hashtag, communication, engagement, generation, recipe development. So there’s so much that we need to think about, but hopefully things will just start falling into place as they are, and then that will allow us to figure out how to properly use hashtags.

Jillian Leslie 42:37
I love your honesty in that you’re like, you know what, we’re growing, we’re building and we’re learning as we go and we’ll expand to certain platforms when it’s the right time. Like, I love that, that you’re like, this is working for us, and we’re digging in and we’ll spread our wings as we can, as we continue to grow.

Maria Koutsogiannis 42:58

Jillian Leslie 43:00
So I think that is terrific. If you had any parting advice for, say, a food blogger who really wants to take it to the next level, what would you say to them?

Maria Koutsogiannis 43:15
I would say this is just like, without thinking, I would say for sure, make sure that you’re using like professional photography gear or like a good camera, because that makes a huge difference.

People eat with their eyes, they want to see stunning photography.Make sure you’re using like a backdrop and you’re using Pinterest as your inspiration to create that composition and generate really gorgeous photos.

And then second, I would say if you’re starting to earn money and you have a little bit of wiggle room, hire people to help you because it’s so important to realize that. There’s honestly, there’s probably two things in life that you’re great at and the rest of it, you might be shit at, you might be average at.

Hire people to help you. I am great at talking and getting people’s attention. I can hold a room and I’m very good at like the engagement process. And I’m also good at obviously the cooking and the content creation.

Other than that, I’m not very good at maybe negotiating rates. Maybe I get a bit anxious thinking about payments. So I like deal with some of that but I have someone helping me.

I have someone helping with my videography, because I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out how to edit a video.

It’s just so important to do what you’re good at, what you’re great at, and then hire others to help you –and that it makes a huge difference.

Jillian Leslie 44:44
Maria, I think that such good advice. If people want to reach out to you, how can they find you? What’s the best way?

Maria Koutsogiannis 44:53
Email Raquelle at

Jillian Leslie 44:57
How do you spell Raquelle?

Maria Koutsogiannis 45:01
R-A-Q-U-E-L-L-E. And if there’s anyone out there who wants photography done, we do that too. So remember that you don’t have to be a one-stop shop. You might be great at the recipe development but really bad at the photography. That is totally okay.

Do you think Jamie Oliver takes his photos? No. So that’s totally okay. So if you ever need photography done, reach out to people. If you ever need videography done, do it.

But if you have the brains behind the recipes and people are loving what you’re doing, don’t give up because you honestly do not need to be a one-stop shop.

Jillian Leslie 45:39
Oh, Maria. I love that. Okay. So it’s

Maria Koutsogiannis 45:43

Jillian Leslie 45:48
Okay., but also your website and your Instagram.

Maria Koutsogiannis 45:54
Yeah, absolutely.

Jillian Leslie 45:56
So go out there and say hi to Maria. Maria, thank you so much for being on the show.

Maria Koutsogiannis 46:02
Absolutely. And if anyone wants any more of my recipes, my cookbook is available, Mindful Vegan Meals. That wasn’t like a sale insert. But if you just want to see like what else I do and where else Food by Maria is going, that’s a pretty good representation. But thanks so much for having me, Jill. It was great.

Jillian Leslie 46:21
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