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How Stephanie O’Dea Turned Her New Year’s Resolution into an Online Empire
Written by: Esther Strauss
Esther is a business strategist with over 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, executive, educator, and management advisor.
Published on December 5, 2023
Updated on December 6, 2023
Stephanie O’Dea’s entrepreneurial journey is a remarkable tale of transformation, creativity, and resilience. Beginning with a simple New Year’s resolution, she embarked on an adventure that led her to establish a successful online empire, exemplifying how determination and ingenuity can turn a personal challenge into a thriving business.
In this candid interview, O’Dea shares her inspiring story, revealing how she leveraged her unique circumstances and skills to create a distinctive brand in the digital world. Her narrative is not just about business success; it’s a testament to the power of adapting to life’s unpredictabilities and finding innovative solutions to personal and professional challenges.
This interview is a must-read for anyone aspiring to turn their passion into a profitable venture, offering valuable insights into the journey of a self-made entrepreneur.
Introduction: Background and Journey
SBS – Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Stephanie – My name is Stephanie O’Dea, and I’m a New York Times best-selling author who has written 10 books. I’m the founder of AYearofSlowCooking.com and StephanieODea.com and am the host of the Slow Living Podcast. I live in the SF Bay Area with my high school sweetheart husband, Adam, and together, we have three daughters and a basset hound puppy named Sheldon.
Creation of A Year of Slow Cooking
SBS – How and why did you create your website, A Year of Slow Cooking?
Stephanie – I started A Year of Slow Cooking because I wanted to find a way to make a legitimate income while staying home with my children. In 2006, I needed to quit my job running preschool centers for disadvantaged children — one was housed within a homeless shelter — because my own daughter was getting sick. I thought it was daycare germs and quit. We later found out that it was celiac disease, an intolerance to gluten. Now, celiac disease and gluten intolerance/sensitivity are pretty commonplace, but at the time, we really didn’t know what was happening.
We live in the SF Bay Area, which is terribly expensive, so not working wasn’t an option. I started reading mommy blogs and saw that there were real women writing online and making money from it. I wasn’t terribly enthralled with the idea of sharing photos of the children online or sharing personal information, so I began researching food and recipe blogs. The only problem is — I don’t really cook, nor do I like to!
After a Christmas party in 2007, where I had a few glasses of wine, I came up with the idea of writing a daily crockpot recipe blog. I decided to turn it into a New Year’s Resolution to force myself to stick to a daily writing routine. I started a Year of CrockPotting with no money down at a for-free blogspot (crockpot365.blogspot.com).
After my first cookbook came out, we changed the URL to AYearofSlowCooking because Crock-Pot is a registered trademark.
In February of my one-year cooking challenge, I made a perfect creme brulee in the crockpot. I got super excited about my fantastic invention and feat and emailed the Rachael Ray Show. I told them that I was awesome and that they should have me on their show so I could show Rachael how to make creme brulee in such an easy way. I flew out to New York and appeared on the show. After that episode aired, book publishers began emailing me.
Since that initial decision to make a New Year’s Resolution and stick to it, I’ve been on the Rachael Ray Show four times, Good Morning America three times, appeared in the infomercial for the Ninja Cooking System, and have written 10 books. My first cookbook spent six weeks on the New York Times best sellers list.
In 2012, my for-free blogspot blog (It is still hosted on Blogger; I never made the switch to WordPress because I don’t like to pay for things) was garnering two million pageviews a month and was voted the #3 food blog in the world. I was making $1,000 a day in banner ads.
Revenue Generation and Growth
SBS – How much money per month/year are you currently making through A Year of Slow Cooking and your books? Also, how long did it take you to achieve your current revenue level?
Stephanie – In around 2016, I began getting tired of writing about crockpot recipes and began feeling really phoney baloney online. I didn’t like the way the Internet wanted new and shiny things all the time and started really questioning the value I was providing. In order to “feed the beast” of the Internet, I needed to keep “inventing” new ways to make pot roast — but I already had dozens of different ways listed on the site, and it felt really icky and inauthentic.
Right around that time, the Instant Pot hit the stage, and my book publishers and literary agent wanted me to translate all of my recipes into Instant Pot recipes. I didn’t want to.
One of the reasons I love my crockpot slow cookers so much is because I can put the food into it early in the morning when I’m still caffeinated and coherent and go on with my day. When my children were little, it actually wasn’t safe to be in the kitchen during their evening witching hours — they were hanging all over me and were cranky.
The technology of the Instant Pot is neat, but it just didn’t fit into the type of lifestyle I was interested in living. So, my publishing house fired me, and I hopped around to a few different literary agents.
The website traffic plummeted, and I began writing, coaching, speaking, and teaching about all things slow living and began the Slow Living podcast.
The AYearofSlowCooking.com URL is still alive and well and garners daily visitors and traffic, but it now only makes about $1,000 a month, vs $1,000 a day back in the early days.
My recipes and words have been scraped countless times — I am not interested in hiring a team of lawyers to track down copyright infringements or those who have copied my recipes word-for-word.
Because of this, the way the algorithms work means that there is just the same content pretty much everywhere now, and Google isn’t directing people to me the same way anymore.
And that’s okay — I never really wanted to be a recipe writer — I wanted to help moms. I do that now through podcast, speaking opportunities, and coaching.
That said, I’ve developed multiple streams of income and have created a personal brand and online empire that has stemmed directly from that initial New Year’s Resolution.
I have income streams from:
- Banner ads
- Affiliate marketing
- Amazon Merch
- Freelance writing via magazine articles
- Speaking fees
- Selling my own digital downloads
- Selling online courses
- One-on-one and group coaching
The cookbook sales are happening, but payments are no longer coming in. I made most of that money upfront via the advances and then for the first few years via royalties. Since I’ve changed agents a few times, it’s really difficult to audit publishers and agents after a book has been out quite a while. I make most of my book sale money now through my self-publishing.
As for how much money I make, I like to say that I now make a full-time living working less than two hours a day.
Blog Traffic and Engagement
SBS – How much traffic is your blog getting?
Stephanie – Here’s my March traffic:
Your March performance on Google Search for ayearofslowcooking.com
Key Marketing Strategies
SBS – What’s your #1 marketing strategy? Also, what unique marketing strategy are you using to grow your business that maybe others don’t use much?
Stephanie – My number one marketing strategy is to be ME. I’ve been online long enough to know that people will straight up steal my recipes and writing. I have Google alerts set up for my name and my URL — I see my recipes and How-To articles all over the internet, translated into different languages, and my photos, with my captions, even in Amazon Kindle listings!
But who I am and how I interact with readers and listeners can not be copied or reproduced. I am consistent on social media and in my interactions with people in person — Stephanie O’Dea, as a person, can not be reproduced. And that feels good — because, especially with the invention of ChatGPT, anything you really want to research or search for can be found or given to you through AI or through a Google search.
However, a friendly, hands-on person and coach who can guide you can not be reproduced or copied in the same way.
SBS – How important is SEO for your business, and what is your overall SEO strategy?
Stephanie – In the early days of the AYearofSlowCooking.com site, my site rocked with SEO. I purposely misspelled “Crock-Pot” as “crockpot” and interchanged “crockpot” and “slowcooker” — this helped with SEO because taking the time to capitalize and insert spaces isn’t how a normal person searches Google.
My recipes are also completely gluten-free. So, if anyone was searching for a “gluten-free crockpot chicken recipe,” my site came up first consistently for many years.
Because of the early success of my site, it garnered lots of attention via earned media. I was linked to constantly by very large news sites (Huff Post, Yahoo!, ABC.com, Today, Parenting, Simply Recipes) — so my backlinks were strong and validated. I didn’t have a strategy except to lean into the traditional media sites and links, and I was very aware that this gave me good Google juice.
SEO came sort of naturally for me. I realized that if I gave Google what people were looking for, they’d naturally come. I used to chant the motto from the Field of Dreams movie in my head — “if you build it, they will come.” 😉
Since I was googling “family-friendly chicken crockpot recipes” pretty darn regularly, I figured other people were, too. 🙂
Building and Growing an Email List
SBS – Do you have an email list? How do you grow it?
Stephanie – Yes, I have a robust email list. At one point, it had 50,000 people on it, but over time, I’ve whittled it down to a very responsive 22,000. I have done various free options over the past 15 years — downloadable PDFs, How-To guides, and free webinars.
I like emailing my list, and I have a schedule that I stick to, no matter what. I email the crockpot list on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and the Slow Down Society list on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Sunday, I send out a Sunday Slow Down newsletter, and everybody gets that.
Work Commitment and Time Management
SBS – How many hours per day or week do you work on your business?
Stephanie – I work 2 hours a day on the business. I’m an early riser, so I work from 4am to 6am each day — I do this before my family (including the dog!) wakes up — this is the best time for my own body clock and when I’m the most creative.
Recommended Resources for Entrepreneurs
SBS – What resources (podcasts, books, YouTube channels, etc.) would you recommend to people looking to build something similar?
Stephanie – Since I started so long ago, I really wanted to zig when others zagged — The 4-hour Workweek came out in the early days of my time online and it got a lot of traction. I read it and felt defeated because I didn’t do hardly anything that Tim recommended. I found that really the best way for me to move forward is to not take advice from others online — but to look towards “old school” business ideas from Brian Tracy, Napoleon Hill, and Zig Ziglar. I spent time reading those texts (repeatedly!) and then thought about how to make them work for me and my family. Pretty much all the advice you can find online on how to make things work for Right! This! Second! is already outdated.
- Go within.
- Ask yourself what you want to learn.
- What do you want to teach?
- What do you want to be known for?
- And then write about that.
The podcasts that I listen to are:
I’m a huge proponent of the FIRE movement: Financial Independence Retire Early, so I spend most of my learning time focused on that.
Essential Entrepreneurial Tools
SBS – Tell us about the three most useful tools you use as an entrepreneur.
Overcoming Challenges in Business Growth
SBS – What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as you’ve grown your businesses?
Stephanie – Pivoting when the internet changes. Algorithms change, the way Google shares or doesn’t share your site will constantly ebb and flow. But people — their wants, needs, desires, and fears — will stay pretty much the same throughout the generations. If you give people what people want and remain a humble and good servant, you will be rewarded if you stay consistent and helpful.
Proudest Entrepreneurial Achievement
SBS – What do you consider your most important accomplishment as an entrepreneur?
Stephanie – That I was able to stay home with my children when they were young and make money from my writing — that was my primary goal, and I’m so thankful I was able to achieve it.
Lessons Learned and Insights Gained
SBS – What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started out?
Stephanie – That it will all work out. 🙂 I did a lot on a hope, a wish, and a prayer. I’m glad I followed my gut and stayed true to my plan. I do wish, however, that I had a crystal ball to help alleviate a lot of my initial fears and insecurities.
Notable Mistakes in Entrepreneurship
SBS – What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made on your entrepreneurial journey?
Stephanie – I’ve trusted snake oil salesmen and fallen for scams. I believe and trust people too quickly and easily.
I gave money to a virtual assistant from another country who said that she had three children right around my age and that she would be able to take all the social media tasks that I don’t like off my plate — I paid her via PayPal friends & family, and then she ghosted me.
I paid for a high-end business coach who “mentored” me for six months, but really, I had achieved more than she had, so I ended up coaching her and helping her make connections.
I’ve also bought quite a few courses on how to work Instagram, create webinars, run Facebook ads, and send out sales emails.
I’ve not needed to purchase any of those items but did so because I fell for the marketing hype. All of those kinds of How-Tos are available for free and are often updated through Facebook’s own tutorials or email marketing software.
Advice for Emerging Entrepreneurs
SBS – What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are building their own businesses right now?
Stephanie – After you have an initial idea and a rudimentary business plan in place, I’d recommend unsubscribing to all business sites and social media channels. Keep your head down, follow your own plan, and don’t give up. I like to use the metaphor that gardeners give when planting trees or vines:
- The first year, it sleeps
- The second year, it creeps
- The third year, it leaps
Keep at it, stay consistent, and take teeny tiny baby steps each and every day.
How Stephanie O’Dea Turned Her New Year’s Resolution into an Online Empire
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