21 Mar

Women Who Inspire Us in 2014: Q&A with Ann Reardon

Women Who Inspire Us in 2014: Q&A with Ann Reardon

Her online baking channel is rated No.1 in Australia and No.3 in the world.

With over half a million subscribers and an average of 3.7 million hits a month, her YouTube tutorials range from delectable macaroons to amazing Instagram cakes and the world’s largest Snickers bar! More recently this savvy food scientist and dietitian created an app that includes a fireworks display around a birthday cake.

Meet Ann Reardon, a Sydney mum who turned a blog while she was breast feeding and an allergy to sunlight, into a thriving business success.

Ann, what was your vision for www.howtocookthat when you first started?
was on maternity leave and had heard people made money blogging, so decided to give it a go. In the back of my mind I hoped that if I posted every week and worked on SEO while I had a year of maternity leave, perhaps I could make enough income to allow me to stay home with the kids. Breastfeeding takes up such a big chunk in the day, so it seemed like the perfect time to get started. I set up a laptop table next to the feeding chair and typed up my recipe posts one handed. With my third son being very unwell, he required three-hourly feeds night and day until he was seven months old. That is a lot of time to get a blog started!

With half a million subscribers and almost four million views a month (and growing), has that vision changed and if so, how?
Yes definitely, now there is a lot more time dedicated to running the business side of things.  Early on it was just writing a blog post each week.  Now there are over 1,500 emails a week, filming, editing, meetings and developing alternative streams of income. 

Tell us about the journey which led you to launching your baking channel?
I filmed a cake decorating video early on before I’d even written the first post and planned to edit it and upload it to the website. Turns out the file was too big to upload so I started the howtocookthat YouTube channel, uploaded the video there and embedded it on the website. After that I spasmodically uploaded videos if the blog post needed it.  The videos started gaining popularity so a couple of years ago I started uploading a video with every blog post. 

How did you feel posting that very first video tutorial online?
I really never imagined that it would be seen by so many people, so it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.

You started this business at home and are still creating your amazing tutorials from your own kitchen – do you see that changing in the near future?
I love working from home, I can pause the video and play play doh or help with homework, then go back to filming.  I can be chatting with my husband about his day at the same time as making chocolate creations.  While waiting for a cake to bake I can do other things around the house.  I am blessed to be able to drop the kids to school, pick them up myself and look after my soon to be three year old. One change that would be a welcome one is some office space. The computer where I edit is currently in a cupboard in the kitchen. To have a room where I could shut the door and concentrate would be a dream come true.

How do you stay disciplined working from home?
I enjoy my work so that has not been an issue for me.  Being disciplined not to eat the chocolate that’s in the cupboard… that’s another story!

What has been the most challenging creation you have ever made – and surely you must have had some disasters along the way!
Surprisingly not many disasters, most things come off first time. If I am inventing a new recipe I make mini amounts of the recipes until I am happy with the result. Then I scale it up to a full batch. This was an issue with the giant snickers, as the temperature of a large batch took longer to cool down and affected the results. I invited a friend to come over and pick up the ‘failed’ snickers, and proceeded to make another one the next day with adjusted temperatures.

Who have been your business mentors along the way and what is the best piece of advice they have given you?
I study other people who are doing the same thing but are further along the road.  Early on I remember reading a post on blogging that said… “Blogs are like plants if you don’t water them regularly, they die.”  So I set my target to post every week and stuck to it.  YouTube runs occasional seminars and has resources online where you can see interviews with other YouTubers.  This is always insightful as it is rare to meet someone else who is doing the same thing. 

What advice would you give other budding entrepreneurs wanting to launch a business from home?
Make progress every week, dedicate a set amount of time to it and commit to spending that time productively. One thing I always tried to do was limit the outlay, so when your idea starts making money, you are making profit straight away. Use what you’ve already got. Once you have good income from it, then you can invest some of that back into the business.

You recently launched an app for birthday cakes and have more apps on their way – tell us about them!
The Surprise Cakes app has 3D animations that bring any cake to life.  It was launched with one fireworks animation and will have four different animations by the end of the year. I bought a 3D gaming animator in to help with this one.

What books have spurred you on to where you are today?
I love the Bible, the wisdom and principles about finances, living generously and also work-life balance are the best you’ll get for any business. You won’t find many books about how to build a successful YouTube channel.  Blogs are of more use. Tubefilter is one of my favourites for keeping up to date with changes to the platform.

For general inspiration and some entertainment along the way, TED talks are awesome.

Where do you source your ideas from week after week for new cakes and creations?
I have a degree in Nutrition and Food Science, which has been invaluable in understanding ingredients and developing recipes. Viewers add an endless list of requests. I choose from and make a decision based on what is trending.  I try to make something that is either better or completely different to what is already out there. There are so many YouTube videos that are just a repeat of existing content and they just don’t gain any traction.

What business skills have you had to learn along the way that has helped grow your business?
I am constantly learning.  Things change often in an online environment, so you have to be flexible. The Google Plus integration with YouTube late last year made it essential to figure out how Google Plus worked and to build an audience on the platform fast. I have become much more efficient at processing offers that come in via email.  I say no to a lot of things, some of which may seem good in the short term but they won’t grow the brand.

What does family/work balance look like in your home?
That is a good question. I work Mondays while my husband takes the littlest one out.  It is the only time in the week that the house is quiet so I can record my voiceovers and edit.  I film when it fits in during the week and apart from that the majority of my work happens at night when the kids are in bed. I have to discipline myself to take two nights off a week.

What about plans for a TV cooking show – has there been interest from Australia or overseas to develop your own show?
At this stage in my life, it simply wouldn’t work. Going into a studio to film a season’s worth of episodes is such a huge time commitment. My youngest starts pre-school next year so after that we’ll process any opportunities as they arise.

Being diagnosed with solar urticaria (a rare allergy to sunlight which means Ann has to stay indoors) could have spelled a life sentence for many people, yet you have turned it into such a positive in your life. What words of inspiration could you offer others who might feel trapped in their situation?
Thankfulness is a great antidote to feeling sorry for your self.  I am very thankful that I did not have this allergy as a child. I am even more grateful my children are not affected by it. Count your blessings and try not to dwell on the negatives.


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