The Lead Generation features conversations with today’s entrepreneurs willing to tell the truth about what it takes to be your own boss and why they wouldn’t have it any other way.
In this episode, we’re bringing you the growth story of ChihYu Smith, a home cook and foodpreneur delighting her hungry audience.
ChihYu grew up in southern Taiwan and now calls Brooklyn, New York home with her husband Nate. She’s teaches busy folks how to make everyday Asian-inspired Paleo cuisine that tastes better than takeout from her site IHeartUmami.com, and is about to release her first cookbook, Asian Paleo.
In this episode, ChihYu shares tips on discovering your niche, how to listen better to your audience, and secrets she’s learned in building up her following.
A slightly edited transcript is below these show notes.
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If you’re short on time, here are a few golden nuggets from our conversation and the resources mentioned.
- When figuring out your niche, listen to people who are willing to pay for the solutions they’re searching for.
- Just because you’re an expert, it doesn’t mean your first (or second) product is going to be a big hit. Expect revisions to be required.
- Blogging in 2019 is different than the “wonder years” before 2016. You can still be successful, but you need to blog about a very specific, narrow niche to get the right attention.
- When creating a lead magnet, think backwards from the type of product or service that you offer, and use a very similar format.
- Defy expectations from audiences’ limited beliefs. Provide value that surprises them.
- Zero to Launch, Ramit Sethi
- 80/20 Solutions, Marc Aarons
- Smart Passive Income Podcast, Pat Flynn
- Akimbo, Seth Godin
- Marketing Online Made Easy, Amy Porterfield
- Mixergy, Andrew Warner
- Tropical MBA Podcast, Dan Andrews and Ian Schoen
- Food Blogger Pro Podcast (Pinch of Yum), Alexa Peduzzi and Bjork Ostrom
- Get Merry, Emma and Carla Papas
- Harder to Kill Podcast, Steph Gaudreau
- IHeartUmami on Instagram
Continue the Conversation
After enjoying this episode, what are your top takeaways from ChihYu?
And what’s one lesson you learned in this episode that you’ll take action on over the next week?
Get to Know ChihYu
Bob: ChihYu, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for joining me.
ChihYu: Hi Bob and everyone out there. Thanks so much for having me. I’m very glad to be here. So excited.
Bob: Excellent. And you’re connecting today from New York City, correct?
ChihYu: Yes. Brooklyn, New York. Woohoo! Brooklyn!
Bob: Before we get into too much, I just want to get people to understand what it is that you do, so how are the lives of your customers transformed by what your company does?
ChihYu: Okay. A very quick introduction. I Heart Umami is, as you know from the name ‘Umami’, is a fixed taste in the culinary world. It’s a Japanese word, meaning savory deliciousness. I’m a home cook and I share Asian-inspired Paleo, Whole30, and Keto recipes with my audience. Basically, I struck a very specific audience group. First of all they have to love Asian food and second, maybe they have a very specific reason they want to go on more low carb diet, high protein and high fiber diet and lower carb consumption, that’s free of gluten, wheat, or soy.
“Once they try it, they realize, ‘Holy crap! This is really delicious.’”
And then there’s some people that they do this type of a diet because of a specific medical reason, a doctor recommended. So what do those people do when they actually have those specific needs? And where do they turn to? They want to eat the Asian food they used to love. They come to me and I provide them this alternative solution of deliciousness. That’s basically what I do, satisfy that specific niche.
Bob: Awesome. And by them cooking your food, I was blown away by your Instagram feed of people posting photos of their cooking of your recipes and then tagging you on it. It seems like they get a big kick out of making very beautiful dishes but also that are healthy and that help them as they are figuring out what they want to do with their Whole30.
ChihYu: Right, right. Because a lot of times when people think, regardless what’s their reason, maybe they want to lose weight, or maybe they want to feel better with better energy and not feel bloated anymore after lunchtime, for example. They think they go on a diet and eat very boring food.
But luckily, I think that nowadays, there are so many delicious, healthy foods. If you go on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll see tons of them. What I do is I provide specifically very different food that they don’t usually see. What they discover is their preconception is “Well, it’s probably not going to be as good as my takeout.” But once they try it and they realize, “Holy crap! This is really delicious.” And they just couldn’t believe that healthy food can also taste so good.
From Public Policy to Foodpreneur
Bob: You’ve been a home cook for a while but as a business, you’ve been doing it for just a few years. How did you get started doing it? What were you doing before? And why did this business come out of your brain?
ChihYu: Yeah. That’s a very interesting question. The shorter version is I had a corporate job in New York City and I was in the public policy sector. It came to a point that I had to decide whether I want to put my family and health first because the job just completely consumed my own personal life. And I was not very happy about it and I felt like I am stuck at that point.
A little background, my husband, he’s also an entrepreneur. He started his business three years ago ahead of me. I just paid attention to his progression. I realized, “Hey, this might be something actually I can try.” So I spent time to find a Venn diagram, something that I actually want for myself, pursue my own health and in the meantime I love eating delicious food. I merged the two and that’s how I started my business.
Bob: Did you have friends that were always saying, “ChihYu, this is just amazing food” as you got them together for dinner parties or anything like that?
ChihYu: Yeah. They love it! Yeah, it’s always fun to see friends enjoying your food together and after that I tell them, “This is complete Paleo with no added sugar.” And they’re like, “Wow, really?!”
There’s No Perfect Product, and Nobody Cares
Bob: As you look back over the last few years as you’ve grown your business, would you say that there were any hurdles or big mistakes that you made that you had to overcome but now looking back you’re like, “Wow, I’m actually glad I made those mistakes because I learned a big lesson from it?”
ChihYu: Absolutely, absolutely. Everyone, the first time starting your business, there’s no way that your first product will be a big success, a big hit. I mean, very, very rarely. The mistake I made was, because I came from a family everyone cooks a lot, I have this preconception that this is my audience right now and they don’t know where to start so maybe this isn’t what they need, even after I did a survey.
Basically, my first failed product is I pushed to my audience what I thought is what they need and then that was a big failure. And then I realized, after that big failure, I did another survey, and I had to learn how to tease out survey information, because sometimes it can be going all over the place, and how to interpret the survey results.
Then I did a test pre-launch with my second revised product based on a lot of in-person conversation and Skype conversation. And then I did a pre-test launch with a paid, pre-sale product, basically. And then that went really well. Then it took me another two years, and I’m still constantly going back to make the platform better and better, make the platform more enriched for my audience.
I guess in summary, there’s no shortcut. Even now, three years into my business, I realized there’s no perfect product. There’s no way. I have this thing in my mind, the first time I made it, you’re going to have the most beautiful platform. And all the platform works everywhere and the color coordinated and everything. But it just doesn’t doesn’t work that way, even now.
And guess what? No one complained about it. No one said, “Oh, your page is not beautiful enough.” Or…no one said that. If there’s something in there, some criticism I received, it’s about some content inside the course, how I could make it easier for people to understand. Nothing on the surface level I actually worry about. That was the thing I realized that there’s no such thing as perfect product. You always just have to go back to keep updating it. Just make it better.
Bob: Very good. One of the things I love that you just said, ChihYu, is this idea that you surveyed people but you ignored them at first.
ChihYu: Yeah, I did.
Bob: Because you were the expert but a lot of times we need to meet people where they’re at, right? We may think that we know the best. We get them in the door. We provide a little bit of what they’re asking for and then we provide more of what we know to be necessary for them. Really good learning that you’ve done.
Achieving Growth Through Mentorships
Now you’ve mentioned your husband as an entrepreneur. Is there anybody else who has been a really big cheerleader for your business that you’ve turned to over the last few years that has really rooted you on?
ChihYu: Yeah. Definitely my husband is one. It’s become a work and life balance, the two of us. Our conversation involves business all the time, it’s just big ideas with each other.
Others? I actually have to give it to a few people who helped me start my business. Within three years, I have a really quite a successful, very quality niche platform. One is Ramit Sethi. I was a student of his. I took his Zero to Launch course and I also took his accelerated program. With his program at that time, I also worked with copywriter coach, Marc Aarons, from 8020Solutions.co. So the two of them, in this course, really helped me niche down, focus on the subject matter really, really clearly.
That helped me save a lot of time, instead of just wasting around, getting sidetracked, by a lot of books, internet marketing things, etc. Mark really helped me to write copy that can converts.
Speaking of the landing page that you guys selected, that’s a page I worked with Marc. He really helped me to just make it really pop and work for my audience.
Bob: That’s awesome. We’ll include the links to them in our show notes. Those of you listening, you can make sure to be able to check those two out.
Complement Your Blog with High-Converting Landing Pages
Bob: Speaking of your Leadpage, I wanted to make sure people knew that you are selected as one of our winners of Leadpages awards because you had a fantastic Whole30 cookbook that you were giving away for free. Unfortunately, people can’t get that for free right now because it was a limited time offer and you stuck to your word, which is great. Congratulations on that.
Secondly, how is Leadpages helping you grow your business faster? How are you using it to generate more leads or to get more business?
ChihYu: Absolutely. I’m a very visual person and that is the reason I wanted to blog, I take all the focus myself. But I absolutely have no idea what’s going on behind the scene to write code, to do pages. I don’t know how to write a button to be able to be clicked. And then don’t even mentioned it needed to be mobile-friendly. So Leadpages gave me all this ability with the drag-and-drop features. And then the template comes with already a structure that you sort of can just follow. And then it works for all different platforms especially mobile or tablet. That’s one thing, actually, very, very important for me.
“When you are trying to get leads, you want absolutely no distraction.”
Another thing is, my website is a WordPress website, and so are all of the attachments going on. And then there are ads on my website. It slows down the page speed. When you are trying to get leads, you want absolutely no distraction, it absolutely works every single time, even when someone with not so great wifi location. I want them to be able to subscribe. Leadpages becomes a really steady platform for me and I know it works. They don’t have to wait for my slow website to load or maybe the pop-up didn’t show up correctly. So that really seriously helped me a lot. So I use Leadpages for my landing page and then even my sales page.
Bob: I know you drive a lot of traffic from Instagram. Are you also doing paid advertising for your traffic?
ChihYu: Not right now.
Bob: Got it. So mostly Instagram. Beautiful food pictures helps a lot to get attention.
ChihYu: Right. And I do want to say, one thing that may help people when they use Leadpages, is one reason that particular page converts so well is because, not only does it serves that specific audience but there is a flow of logic. In other words, where are those people before they actually click a link to see that page. So that particular language in the copy, that’s because people saw something on their Instagram, maybe a particular post with my CTA. By the time they click that link, it matches exactly what I want. So that helps. That’s the reason I think anyone using Leadpages or any landing page to convert. I think it’s logical to focus on.
Bob: That’s really true. I think what also worked well for your landing page was right away they see a friendly picture of you, and they have connected through social media. So that’s the best expectation. There’s a congruence there and a consistency. I think you really nailed it with that. Fantastic.
Anatomy of an Awesome Lead Magnet
Bob: What caught our eye was you’re giving away this cookbook, which you’re not giving away anymore. What are you using these days to build your list? What’s been a good lead magnet for you?
ChihYu: Right. It’s on my homepage. I insisted that a lot of time a food blog the homepage above the fold is all the latest recipes. But to me, because I provide online info product courses to help people plan delicious, healthy meals. So to me above the fold the most important thing is to get email subscribers. So I insisted above the fold has been converting really well for the past few years, knock on wood. It’s a 3-part video guide. To help people, you can learn how to make 10 delicious Paleo meals in under 10 minutes each. So whether you are a Paleo newbie or you just want to eat healthier or maybe you are already familiar with this low carb diet. But who doesn’t want to be able to make 10 delicious meals in under 10 minutes each?
So this becomes a 3-part video training series. Each video is under about three minutes and with some PDF downloads. People can use to write down their list, stick to their fridge or print to go to the store.
“Try to think, what’s the smallest thing you can actually help your audience to give them a really quick win.”
Bob: Awesome. Now, newer members of the Lead Generation are just getting started in their thinking about content like this. Is the video you’re giving away now the first version of that video?
ChihYu: No. It’s not. I can’t remember what it was before. The reason I picked video is because my course…let’s think backwards…the course that I sell is completely video based. It wasn’t a PDF download. So I want to be able to make connections with people immediately. That’s the reason I picked the video. And why three parts instead of just one is because I want to queue them up with the necessary tools they have, not to give them too much within day 1. In other words, if I have slightly longer time frame, I can help them and also, in the meantime, every day they open emails, they see me. So somewhat it feels a slight face-to-face connection.
Bob: That’s brilliant. What I’m also asking with this question is, you didn’t use your first video forever. You created something and then you decided what would improve upon it. This is not the first version. I don’t know, maybe it’s the third or fourth version of figuring things out. So people shouldn’t be too nervous about trying it out and then fixing it, making it better.
ChihYu: No, no. And the most important thing a lot of the time is being helpful and being thoughtful to your audience. Definitely don’t come across being, how should I say this? You know there are some very spammy websites. Definitely don’t do that. Just try to be yourself. Try to think, what’s the smallest thing you can actually help your audience to give them a really quick win. Earn their trust and then they’ll come back to you.
Bob: Excellent. Now, a lot of our members of the Lead Generation are also trying to struggle and figure out this whole balance of personal and family time. You mentioned that your husband is an entrepreneur. And I think you alluded to a fun work/life balance. How do you handle that in your house? Is it a super blurred line? Or do you have distinct compartments that you work with?
ChihYu: Well, it’s super blurred. We’re working at it. It’s probably not the healthiest thing but so happens that we both love it. We both love what we do. So it’s sort of like even during our anniversary dinner we sit in front of romantic candlelight we’re still talking about business. But it’s something, actually, we love. We talk about all the occasions we can plan. We can visit and then what’s the thing we other things we can do to take our business to the next level, to help more people. I actually feel very passionate about it. But you are absolutely right. We probably need to separate with our life a little bit. It’s something we’re working on.
Bob: The beauty is whatever works for you, works for you. And I think, as a guy who is married to an executive personal development coach, we had to make sure that we just communicate. You know, “How’s this working?” And if it’s working for you, great. That’s the key. I don’t think there’s any defined way that it has to be.
Stock Up Your Podcast Library
Bob: Now you mentioned to me off-camera, talking before this podcast, that you enjoyed podcasts yourself. What are some podcasts that you are enjoying listening to? Maybe one business one? And is there one that’s not about business that you’re enjoying just to get a little bit of brain expansion?
ChihYu: I love listening to podcasts because I’m not a native speaker. So for me to read books in English, I read slowly. I’m not as fast as a native speaker. So then, for me listening to podcasts is so much faster. Or listening to Audible. There are so many podcasts I love listening to. I love Pat Flynn’s podcasts. Just always very easy to follow and understand. He’s very relatable. I also love Seth Godin’s podcast. Gosh, there’s so many. I love Amy Porterfield podcasts. Way to many podcasts. I also love Andrew Warner’s podcasts. Also Tropical MBA’s podcasts. I’m a member of the Tropical MBA.
And for slightly non-business-ish, more toward the food blogging world, I follow a few like more health and fitness niche podcasts to keep myself updated with the latest trend of what people are talking about in the community.
Bob: Anybody specifically in the food blogging world that you just make sure you listen to whenever they have a new episode out?
ChihYu: The Pinch of Yum’s podcast, Food Blogger Pro.
Also a friend of mine, Steph Gaudreau, she runs Harder to Kill podcast. She talks about all the female strength training, mindset and fitness and body image.
Oh, and also my friends, they are based in Australia called the MerryMaker Sisters. Their podcast is called the Get Merry podcast. So the two of them, Australian girls are just so positive and so happy. They’re talking about body image, talking about yoga, talking about positive mindset. They are so young but they are just so inspiring. You listen to their voices and you just feel very merry and happy. I love listening to their podcasts, too.
Bob: You mentioned a few people already that you have been learning from through podcasts. And then Marc Aarons for copywriting, Tropical MBA. How do you decide what you’re going to learn next so that you can keep growing your business?
ChihYu: Well, I think of things that remain. It’s always very, just focused on serving your audience. Give them the best content. And then find out how you can best help them really enrich their life. So that has been really just my main focus, serving my specific niche people and then find more people like those people. I’m on Instagram all the time, I’m on Facebook too. Man, just so many distractions. I always drill down by how many people view my videos, how many Likes I get. Of course, I love this too. Everyone wants to be loved. But that shouldn’t be the only vanity metric that you have ’cause you actually have no idea what goes on behind business [inaudible].
I think the most important thing is what do you do after you get the top level traction from the general population? What do you do with those people, especially when they’re already on your mailing list? How do you serve them the best and turn them into loyal, following customers? That has always been my main focus.
Advice for the Lead Generation
Bob: My final question to you is, when you’re having conversations with friends of yours, people who are wanting to emulate some of your success, they’re asking, “How did you make it?” and so forth, what do you tell them is the key to success in starting up a business on something that they love to do?
ChihYu: That’s an interesting question. I would say there is a lot of business advice out there. Some of them are true through and through, there’s a principle to it, that’s very good to know. But there are also business advice out there, in my opinion, that are a little bit outdated because if they start a blog maybe before 2010 the strategy you could use compared to someone who is starting a business now, or after 2016-17, it’s a very different market. Simply because it’s a way more crowded online internet marketing. So you have to go something very specific. Very, very niche down.
“Listen to your audience. But make sure you listen to the right audience because a lot of people will tell you all the different things they want but they would never pay for it.”
But in the meantime, trying to find a Venn diagram, something that you not only feel passionate about but something you can keep going back day after day, week after week. I’m not going to lie to you that it’s going to be easy, that you can just spend 30 minutes per day and you will be done. No. It’s hours and hours every single day. You keep coming back week after week, year after year. And you have to still feel passionate about doing it.
And then, in the meantime, listen to your audience. But make sure you listen to the right audience because a lot of people will tell you all the different things they want but they would never pay for it. They would never buy it. That’s a very tricky part that you have to, sort of, tease out that information, and go from there.
Bob: Yeah. That’s really great advice. I think people listening, focusing, persisting is a common theme that we’re finding in these conversations. Really fantastic.
And I’ve gotta ask, before we go, what are you going to have for lunch today that we can salivate over in the earwaves here?
ChihYu: Well, I’m working on a Thai Larb recipe. Are you familiar with Thai Larb?
Bob: I’m not.
ChihYu: It means the meat mixed with mint, tons of herbs, and basils, and serve that over some crunchy vegetables. So I’m working on that recipe today so maybe that’s what I’ll have for lunch.
Bob: Sounds delicious.
Well, thank you so much to you for joining us for this episode of The Lead Generation.
ChihYu: Yeah. No problem. And then if anyone wants to connect with me, they can find me at IHeartUmami.com and Instagram @IHeartUmami.ny.
And if anyone really wants to get into cooking, I have a cookbook Asian Paleo coming up in May. You can check it out on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Bob: Excellent. Thank you so much, ChihYu.
ChihYu: Yep. Same here. Thanks Bob!
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