Brett Lindenberg is the owner/operator of FoodTruckEmpire.com and Mobile-Cuisine.com. He also hosts the Food Empire Pro podcast. FoodTruckEmpire.com began as an online information resource for aspiring food truck owners. Since they got started (back in 2013), they’ve branched out to cover all kinds of food businesses from food trucks to coffee shops to restaurants. Their content offers guidance on either how to start a new food business or increase the profits of their existing food business.
Why Food Trucks?
- Food trucks were an emerging social phenomenon back in 2013 – The Great Food Truck Race was one of the number one shows on The Food Network. The idea of food trucks was budding in popularity and trendiness. It occurred to Brett that food trucks were a potentially great business to blog about–affordable to start, part-time work, potentially diverse and interesting in general.
- So he googled “how to start a food truck business” and there were no helpful results. He’d found his blogging niche! Brett began by launching an interview series podcast. He interviewed food truck owners and wrote about their stories and advice.
- He launched the site from his one-bedroom apartment while he was working a full-time job as an internet marketer.
- Brett went to college to be a content writer and worked for an internet marketing agency where he learned about SEO, website ranking and other skills that would help him build a successful blog.
- Entrepreneur on Fire with John Lee Dumas was one of Brett’s inspirations in the beginning of Food Truck Empire. He modeled his podcast after John Lee Dumas’s interview style – very simple – contact food truck owners, ask them questions about starting their businesses, publish the interview and write about it.
- He especially enjoys hearing the stories of people who get into the food space – they tend to be “scrappy” and resilient. Brett likes to share their stories and finds satisfaction in giving them a voice.
- There’s entrepreneurial spirit in the food truck world. There’s also big business potential that starts in the food truck world. It starts with one truck, then two, then maybe a restaurant, a bar, a cookbook…there’s a lot of opportunity.
Are there bumps you’ve hit in your own Journey?
- Around year 3-4 of Food Truck Empire, Brett felt like he’d hit a blogging plateau. The blog was making $30k-$40k/year and he tried several avenues to increase the blog’s revenue without luck. Within that 6-12 month “plateau,” he continued to work on his blog, but he “wasn’t working hard because [he] didn’t know what direction to take” or how to grow it. That’s when he decided to branch out from food trucks and talk to people in other food-related businesses. He also started to work with ADThrive, which increased his revenue and motivation.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial drive?
- Brett initially went to school to be a writer. Before Food Truck Empire, Brett created several websites, including a cloth diaper ecommerce website, an SEO website, an air traffic controller website, a remote control airplane website… Even though none were as successful as Food Truck Empire, each taught him valuable elements of online business. His experience set him up for a quick launch and success with Food Truck Empire.
- Last December he bought Mobile-Cuisine.com to help build his Food industry blogging business. Brett also works a full-time job, so he’s ready to hire more VAs!
- At this point, if Brett chose to, he could quit his full-time job and live comfortably off of the revenue from his websites. But he doesn’t have interest in working every element of his websites, including customer service, web design, and even some of the copywriting. He plans to continue to build it with help from VAs.
Utilizing VAs with his blog
- With help from his current VAs, Brett can hand-pick and write about the things he enjoys. He likes to outsource the rest. Outsourcing has helped him maintain his podcast, two websites, his full-time job and still get a lot done.
- “[Outsourcing’s] helped me maintain a full-time job for now and still get a lot of stuff done that I couldn’t get done all by myself.”
Tell us about your Filipino team members
- Brett has three Filipino team members working for him. They’re work is mostly concentrated in content writing. Brett systemizes and creates templates for all of his processes to make things easier for his VAs.
How do you find great content writers?
- Originally, Brett used the same hiring process he learned working in corporate America. Make a job post, look at resumes, schedule an interview…But he learned to adapt the process more to fit his needs and the needs of his Filipino applicants. His hiring process is “super simple.”
- He learned that to be a great writer, applicants don’t necessarily need to be “great to talk to.” He looks for examples of candidates’ past writing to get a sense of their style. He wants them to be able to write in a somewhat natural American style, with less formality.
- Then he asks his candidates a few questions by email to learn how they respond to emails (because that’s their primary method of communication).
- He makes a “quick decision” to hire the best candidate and then puts them on a 30-day trial. In Brett’s experience, you can tell within the first week whether a copywriter is going to work out and fit your expectations.
- The first hire Brett made on Onlinejobs.ph had only written 400 words in two weeks. He really tried to work with the VA for a month and a half to help improve his output. After a month and a half, the VA had only written about two pieces for the blog, and the quality was not up to snuff. Brett decided to let his first VA go. He felt discouraged, but then he contacted his runner-up candidate and offered him the job. That VA has been working with Brett for over 3 years now.
- In Brett’s opinion, it’s the trial that really solidifies the hiring process.
How do you know if a content writer isn’t going to work out?
- Either they don’t write anything in their first week or they write so little that it’s obvious they’re not making the effort. If they’re not working out in the first two weeks, they probably won’t work after 6 months.
Do you have advice for employers who need to let someone go?
- Think of it as part of the hiring process. It’s the same as state-side. You’re going to find great employees, average employees and some that don’t fit your needs. It’s just part of the process.
- Make sure that before you hire, you have a clear process in mind of what your Filipino worker will be doing. Have step-by-step guidelines in place from day one. Then give them time to adjust. Extend acceptance. Understand that there may be some communication issues early on, but you can work through them.
How do you train your writers to adopt your writing style?
- In one case, Brett wanted someone who could write a bunch of different business plans for food-related businesses – a coffee shop business plan, a food truck business plan, a restaurant business plan etc…and then turn those plans into blog posts. He created an outline that his VA needed to follow–it was the same for each blog post. In each outline, Brett really mapped out the details.
- He advises that you provide them with examples of what you want–either past posts or examples of writing you find on the internet that you want them to mimic.
- Give them access to data and research to support the type of writing you want them to do.
- Then understand that you’re going to have to tweak their work, and that’s ok.
Things to look out for in Filipino content writers’ work:
- With all of the experience Brett has with Filipino content writers, he’s noticed a handful of trends in their general writing style that don’t specifically work on his website. But he takes the time to give his VAs lots of feedback and support and they tend to be fast learners.
Specifically, Brett’s noticed that his VAs’ writing style initially sounds:
- Formal – so he’s taught his writers that it’s ok to write in casual speaking voice.
- Optimistic – there’s a tendency to put a “positive” spin on everything. So he’s taught them to write more with facts and neutrality, and to not be afraid of negative topics.
- Flowery – he’s taught them to focus on data instead.
- Run-on – he’s taught them how to shorten their sentences and present ideas more concisely.
- “They’re writing what they think you want – so you have to take time to explain things and give them feed-back.”
- Most everyone who’s started well in the first two weeks has stayed on his team. Once you do get somebody trained in, try to be a flexible and positive boss to retain them. You’ve got to be flexible.
What’s the difference between managing a Filipino team vs managing a state-side team?
- Try to be as specific as possible with feedback. He usually provides his feedback in email form. It’s not too different, just don’t hesitate to provide feedback. They don’t come back in negative ways and feedback is openly received.
- He realized after conducting several team calls that his team didn’t like to be on live calls, so he decided to stop.
How long before a new writer is well-trained and up to speed?
- For the most part it only takes 1-2 times of correction for each writing element you want them to change and 2-3 months to really get writers up to speed.
- Brett trains on one content type at a time. He likes to make sure his VAs are really comfortable with a format before he moves on to teach them something else. Each of his team members is now skilled in 3 or so blogpost formats, so they can change things up and they don’t get bored.
Advice for other outsourcers:
- He remembers feeling nervous to make his first hire. “Anytime you do something new, it’s going to to be kind of stressful.” That’s normal, and it’s ok!
- Find something you don’t like to do and outsource that specific task.
- Try outsourcing to people for 20 hrs a week- it will be affordable.
- Don’t time track your workers, especially if you’re hiring content writers. Base your judgement on their productivity, rather than their hours. If they’re producing at a rate that makes sense with how much you’re paying them, don’t stress over time tracking. If you’re getting the output you want, leave them alone.
“Of the three full-time employees I have through OnlineJobs.ph, I don’t think I could get one low-paid US-based employee for [the same] amount.”
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About Shelane Tuttle
Shelane Tuttle has worked in content development with John Jonas and the OnlineJobs.ph team since 2010. She’s a mother of four, book devourer, beach bum, wannabe music and art connoisseur and she thrives on learning/teaching others about new things, like outsourcing.
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