Erin Chase is the founder of 5dollardinners.com, 5dollarmealplan.com, grocerybudgetmakeover.com, myfreezeasy.com, and the author of The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook series. She’s on a mission to help busy, overwhelmed home chefs learn to spend less money on groceries and get organized in the kitchen. Her courses and membership programs have helped tens of thousands of shoppers save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Beyond the money savings, though, she’s helped many people come to enjoy cooking again and helped them stop feeling stressed feeding their families every night.
In This Episode
Erin Chase shares how her $5 dinners are impacting lives for the better, what to look for before pulling the plug on an ad test, and her lessons learned about how much of your private life to share with followers.
1:02 From Blogging to Business
Within a month of switching from a blog to an actual business, Erin was seeing traffic like never before.
2:35 Public Vs. Private Life
Finding the right balance between being in the public eye and keeping things close at heart.
5:37 Keep the Crazy Train Rolling
Making quick decisions and implementing them fast is a skill you need these days.
7:26 When Do You Pull the Plug
Cashflow and customers’ needs come first.
9:01 Online Workshops
Finding the pain points and then solving them with targeted workshops to meet those needs.
10:30 On the Horizon: Ecommerce
Upsells and downsells in one spot for both digital and physical products.
12:47 Making an Impact Through Cooking
Hearing “Erin helped me feed my family” is the best reward.
13:53 Help Is a Click Away
Technology is making it possible to connect and help others in mass.
– Erin Chase
LR: Welcome to MODERN ONTRAPRENEUR, I’m Landon Ray, and today I have Erin Chase. Erin is the founder of 5dollardinners.com, 5dollarmealplan.com, grocerybudgetmakeover.com, myfreezeasy.com, and the author of The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook series. She’s on a mission to help busy, overwhelmed home chefs learn to spend less money on groceries and get organized in the kitchen. Her courses and membership programs have helped tens of thousands of shoppers save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Beyond the money savings, though, she’s helped many people come to enjoy cooking again and helped them stop feeling stressed feeding their families every night. Awesome! Thank you so much for being here!
EC: Thanks for having me!
LR: So tell us about your journey a little bit. How long have you been doing this?
EC: I started a food blog nine years ago just as a place to chronicle what we were eating, how much I was spending. Then my sister was like, “I don’t really care what you’re eating,” so I moved it from our family blog…
LR: Good feedback. Thanks sister.
EC: I know, I’m so grateful because she didn’t know that she was sending me off onto this crazy train. I moved that over to 5dollardinners.com, and just the concept resonates with people. It’s just challenging enough that people think you’re crazy, but then really if you listen and you follow what we say, you can actually do it. People actually feed their family great food on a budget. So it just took off.
LR: When did that happen?
LR: 2008 it took off. When did you say you started it?
EC: I started it in 2008, August. Within a month I had a thousand people on the site every day.
LR: Oh my gosh. And then it’s grown since then, and it’s a whole thing.
EC: Right. We’ve grown it. We’ve built our membership sites because it’s so important for me to help people and meet them where they are, so as we get feedback and we hear from people, it’s like, “Well, we can do that. Sure.” If I’m having the same problem then they’re having the same problem, then other people are having the same problem.
EC: So we’re pretty much like, “Let me provide some solutions for you that are really practical and doable that aren’t gonna make you feel more overwhelmed by whatever it is in your life that’s causing the overwhelm.” And we keep it tight around dinner, kitchen, things like that.
LR: If you could go back and give yourself a tip from something you know now that you wish you knew then, what would it be?
EC: I’ve always struggled with I’m a private person and I wanna protect my family, to I’m on the cover of cookbooks. There’s this weird thing that happens. Our products and brands are very personality-driven and I’m the face of them, so there’s this constant tension of I’m this public person and I meet people and they cry to I’m a very private person. There’s that tension, and I think going back I should say I should probably have put myself out there more than I did, maybe through certain phases if you will. I think when you have a brand personality-driven business, you can’t afford to be private. I mean, you can in certain times, but I might think I would’ve put myself out there more earlier on.
LR: What does that look like? You were unwilling to have your picture taken, or because you wouldn’t do the interview that you didn’t get that look?
EC: No, just like this silly thing my kid did in the kitchen. Do I share that or do I not? I should have shared that because it’s connecting and that’s keeping it real. And I still very much do that. I did a Facebook live video and my nine-year-old son was standing on the counter behind me in the video.
LR: Playing with knives, no doubt.
EC: Well, no, but really, that’s putting … That’s what I mean. I do that more now, and I think earlier on I should have done more. And it’s real. I have people tell me all the time, “I love you because you’re telling it like it is, and I don’t play the mommy wars game. I just wanna help you.
LR: It’s so interesting. We do a bunch of these interviews and some people come in here and they talk about really making sure that you’re adding value and you gotta compete for probably the most value and make sure that there’s no question about where people should invest their money and stuff like that because you’re the best at what you do, and then we got another half of the people that come in and say, “You know what? Everybody’s providing value. It’s really about finding people and finding your tribe.” It’s kind of an interesting opportunity that hasn’t always been there, right?
EC: Right, not before social media it certainly wasn’t. I didn’t have a Facebook page. They didn’t even exist. But when I started, we talked on Twitter. Nobody talks on Twitter anymore. We’ve kind of evolved and followed the community and taken it to where it is now. Now it mostly happens within Facebook groups, but we’ve moved our folks around and kept that community tight. I think it’s both. I think it’s value, value, value, but that relatability and authenticity. I’m trying to keep up with my own circus and I’m sharing pieces of my circus and my kid standing on the counter. She’s real, I’m a mom too. I’m a mom first. So I think that makes a difference. That’s part of our community too.
LR: What do you think your unique skill set is?
EC: I am really quick at making decisions and following through and implementing things. So as soon as we make a decision about something, it’s set up. That’s been the case from the very beginning, and I think that’s what’s been able to keep what we call the crazy train moving as fast as it moves and helping us stay on trend and help us say, “Okay, yup. We’re gonna build an Alexa skill, and we’re gonna build a Google Home.” We’re gonna do all that stuff, we can stay on trend with everything because we can make fast decisions. It’s what the community needs, and our products are meeting needs and solving problems for people.
LR: So you’re just an executor. What do you have to say to people who struggle with that?
EC: Make the decision and stick with it long enough to see if it’s gonna work, and make sure that you don’t just let it die off because it could work. It might just not work right now, but it might work in two or three months from now. Trial and error, it’s all about is this gonna work? It’s kind of a game because a lot of the space that we’re moving, I mean, I feel like I’m ahead of the curve in a lot of ways. We’re in uncharted territory. I was using bots right away, messenger bots as soon as it’s available. We try to get in there and get working with it and see how it fits into the other channels and avenues we already have working. Being able to add things in quickly to then see how they’re working.
But I think a lot of people try something and then they don’t follow through on it. They don’t come back and check on it either often enough or at all. Then you don’t know if that’s working or helping you. So I think that would be just make the decision, run with it for long enough to see if you need to keep the course or change and then do something differently.
LR: That brings up one of the things that I think is the hardest about this whole process, and that is how do you know when to quit? ‘Cause you do need to persevere, like you’re saying, three months isn’t enough. It might be that six months isn’t enough. We might be about to turn the corner at nine months or something like that, but on the other hand you don’t wanna be throwing good money after bad, right?
LR: How do you make the decision to pull the plug on something?
EC: For us it’s cash flow. If there’s not enough cash flow to pay for itself or pay for the ad dollars (which we don’t have a huge ad spend) then we pull it or we just don’t put more towards it. It’s still gonna be there. I would say that, and if it’s just not meeting your customer’s needs, secondary to that. Obviously cash flow business-wise, but then if it’s not meeting your customer needs or they’re not getting the results you were expecting.
LR: That’s a good time to pull the plug.
EC: Another option would be do a beta. A lot of people won’t do a beta. Just do a beta. ‘Cause that helps you make it better so that when you do launch it, people will get results and then you don’t have to pull the plug on it.
EC: Do an alpha and a beta. We did that for one of our products and it was awesome. It got such great feedback, and I think as an implementer and an executor, like I just want stuff to happen. Slow down. Slow up. Because you’ll be more successful long-run. It sounds counterintuitive but we can still get a lot of things done, but we’re doing it really methodically and what feels maybe slow, but long-term I won’t necessarily have to pull the plug because I did it right from the beginning.
EC: It depends on the goal of the project, right? If it’s not meeting the goal, not meeting the customer’s needs, not enough cash.
LR: Pull it.
LR: Yeah, got it. So what’s working right now to grow your business? What is the cutting-edge, exciting thing?
EC: What’s working now for us is moving people through workshops. We’ve identified our biggest pain points for one of our memberships is they just need to understand how this type of cooking works. So we send them through a workshop so they learn how this works and how it fits into their life, because it’s hard to say….
LR: An online workshop?
EC: Yes, it’s all done online. All built on Ontrapages. It’s all the way flowed through. They opt in, they go through the video series, then we offer them a membership. If they don’t join, we offer them follow-ups and follow-ups. But I think being able to identify on our sort of onboarding side where people are getting hung up, and it’s the “I don’t know how that fits into my life.” One, I don’t know how this works, this type of cooking; and two, I don’t know how that’s gonna change the way I work and operate in the kitchen. There’s just these sort of life habit hurdles that we have to overcome. So we’ve put a lot of time into getting feedback from people, asking questions, seeing what we can do differently in formulating that workshop to then help them see how useful and beneficial this type of cooking is for a busy, stressed-out mom. Then the tools, also we have web apps and mobile apps built to make it easy for them to get food onto the table.
LR: So what is the next thing? What are you excited to learn next? What are you gonna implement next in your business?
EC: We actually just moved everything into a Shopify store. Our e-commerce. We have physical products and digital products that we sell en masse. So we moved that all there and then connected it all over and will do all our post-purchase and upselling and whatnot through campaigns in Ontra reports, which is awesome. I super geeked out when I figured out that connection. Then we’re gonna be working with our developers on doing some Alexa skill and kinda meeting people where they’re at in their kitchen saying, “Hey, Alexa, what should I make for dinner tonight? Alexa, how do I make this?” And Alexa will read you the cooking directions of the recipes that we have in our database.
Just meeting people where they’re at, and I’m watching Amazon dump money into advertising Alexa everywhere. She’s everywhere. So I’m seeing that okay, let’s stick with this. Our developers have built skills already, they know what to do. We already have all of the recipe data and databases, so they just basically have to plug it into the Alexa skill format so that we can then have that available for our members.
LR: Whoa, what an interesting experiment!
EC: That’s exactly what it’ll be. It’ll be an experiment. It’s not that expensive of an experiment, but again it’s meeting people where they’re at and making it there … Like, my four-year-old can talk to Alexa. Really.
LR: Yeah, yeah. Makes it easy.
EC: Then we’ll have to do some education and training on our end to help people understand, “Ask Alexa.” I think there’s some really cool opportunities there. I think as a busy mom, as a business woman, as somebody trying to stay on trend, what’s happening in the world is artificial intelligence. Well, I don’t know that robots are ever going to cook our food. I can’t wrap my head around that. I just can’t. But Alexa, we’re trying to stick with it and make sure that we’re there and ready for the next thing. Not necessarily robots cooking us dinner, but what is that thing, and how can we be a part of that. So that’s really important to us to be right there and ready to execute on the next thing.
LR: Yeah. Exciting. So when you think about the future and looking back, what would you like your legacy to be?
EC: I think it’s just being a part of people’s lives and being in the kitchen even though I’m not technically in the kitchen. Just being able to have had that impact on their life in making their life easier, making it more delicious, right? And just being there even though I’m not physically in their kitchen, I’m in their kitchen in video. I’m in their email with new recipes, right? Just being able to have that “Erin helped me learn to cook,” or “Erin helped me feed my family delicious,” “Erin helped me not overspend money on groceries.” All kind of what we do, I just wanna have that impact in people’s lives and be able to make it easier for them. Be able to afford a nice vacation. Whatever their goals and plans and dreams are. To be able to have a tiny sliver of that, it’s an honor and a pleasure to be able to have that impact in people’s lives.
LR: And that passion is what gets you through the challenges, right? So we live in this unique moment in history entrepreneurially. We called this thing MODERN ONTRAPRENEUR. What do you feel like the unique opportunities and even the responsibilities are for being an entrepreneur today?
EC: It’s about meeting people where they are and it’s about helping them solve a problem. It’s about connecting them with a product, whether it’s a physical product, now we have digital products, membership products. Being able to connect them and help them is like a click away. And we do, we have this amazing opportunity to have this really simple experience with people even though I’m impacting thousands of people today, but I’m here. But I can still do that, and it’s amazing, just the technology and how you can wrap it all together and just meet people where they are and help them out in their life, I think is such a gift. It’s an amazing opportunity to have to get to be with people even though we’re not really with people if that makes sense.
LR: Yeah, it does. Well thank you so much! It’s been a pleasure, Erin.
EC: Thank you!
LR: Thank you for joining us. Will you sign the wall?
EC: I will sign the wall! How fun!
LR: Awesome, yeah!
EC: Very cool!
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