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Bianca Wendel Polywork interview

How I create: An influencer's toolkit, with Bianca Wendel

We are in the age of the influencer. And while many people have taken to various platforms to build an audience and try to monetize their content, very few do it well. And even fewer do it strategically and sustainably.

Whether you’re interested in creating a platform as a hobby, a portfolio piece, a source of side income or even a career, you have to get started somewhere. But where? Well, let’s ask Bianca Wendel, founder of Bianca in Melbourne (formally Melb Food Baby). Over the past few years, she’s built an engaged audience of over 250,000 people and has recently transitioned this side hustle into a full-time job.

It’s not all glamor shots and paid vacations, but, well, there is some of that too.

For this edition of the content creator's toolkit, we'll cover:

1. How to get started

What prompted the start of Melb Food Baby? 

It started when I was traveling around Australia playing competitive golf. Since I was eating out a lot, I thought I’d put some of the photos online. I was also majoring in marketing and management so it just sort of fit.

Then I just kept posting photos. I did some analysis around what my audience liked, what they didn't like and just kept posting more photos of what they did like. It got to a point where I started getting invited by businesses to come take photos and help promote their venues. As it continued to grow, the more opportunities that opened up, the more I got to work with bigger businesses. Now I’m essentially doing it full-time. I can make an income off it, so it's exciting. But it all started just as a playground really.

People always say that all you need to get started is a phone. But I have to imagine it’s more complicated than that.

Yes and no. A phone is probably the only tech you need at first, but you’ll have to learn how to edit and how to strategically think about your content’s growth. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials that will teach you how to do those things. I just watched tons of YouTube videos and downloaded every free guide I could find.

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Bianca in Melbourne ✨ (@melbfoodbaby) • Instagram photos and videos

Another thing to do is save 10 creators you enjoy watching and write down why you think you like their content. Look at their highest-performing videos and note how they’re structured. Then adapt what you like about their content and turn it into your own. Obviously you can't just copy them, but I think some elements are universal and you can apply them to make your own genuine content platform.

2. Strategically growing your audience 

You talk about analyzing what your audience responds to – how exactly are you doing that? 

In the insights dashboard on any app, you can see what content has performed well in the last 30 days. Then you compare it against what hasn’t and replicate what’s worked. You have to try and break down what in the post was enticing. Is it that there's lots of cream dripping off a particular donut or something, or is it the tone of the caption? And you try to optimize the post so that more people resonate with it. Every post is essentially an opportunity for an AB test. It’s really about honing in on what exactly made a piece of content do well.

That’s a lot to think about for a content calendar. How often are you posting?

Four times a week on Instagram and TikTok.

How do you stay organized and plan ahead?

I start the planning process three months in advance of a post, thinking seasonally.  For example, summer's coming up in Australia, so I'm starting to think about key events, key activities that people are searching for, the popular locations…


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♬ original sound - ✨2000s&2010s throwbacks✨

I plan what people are searching for, and then what performed well last season, and combine those two things to plan a list of videos that I think will resonate with my audience. Google Trends is super helpful to know what people are searching for in my area. It’s a great jumping off point for content.

In terms of the actual scheduling, I use Google Sheets – just the standard rows. I write the hook in there, what date it's going live and the status of it. 

This really is a business, but there is so much pressure to be “authentic” on social media. How do you navigate that balance of authenticity and professionalism?

I go full meta. I think about my broader purpose. What is important to me? How can I show up guided by my values? In my content, I take pride in supporting small businesses, giving non-profits a platform, and helping people plan their travel in a very accessible way.

So I take those things, embed them in my content strategy and then figure out how to link that to what I know my audience is looking for through analytics. You have to marry your values and show up for your audience.

3. Creating your business toolkit 

Am I right in assuming that when turning social media into a business, one of the main sources of income is brand partnerships?

Yes. Some countries like the U.S. also have creator programs where you can monetize individual pieces of content, but for the most part, the majority of creator income comes from brand deals. There is also money to be made through affiliate programs or something like a Patreon, but brand deals are probably the biggest source of income.

How do you start engaging with businesses for a brand deal?

If your content performs well, you'll start to get followed by businesses that will want to work with you already. But I don't see any harm in reaching out to the brands that you want to work with. It’s a great way to make their affiliate marketing team’s job easier.

When you do land the brand deal, how do you manage it? What are the tools you use? Do you have a set contract?

Normally the bigger brands that I work with have contracts in place, so I don’t have my own set contract. In terms of organizing timelines and deliverables, I use Airtable. It’s just a project management tool I like.

If your content performs well, you'll start to get followed by businesses that will want to work with you already. But I don't see any harm in reaching out to the brands that you want to work with. It’s a great way to make their affiliate marketing team’s job easier.

I think the key here is really thinking about your platform like an advertising business. A client will come in and fill in my partnership request form. I'll look at what they want, and we'll negotiate certain deliverables for a particular rate. Then, once it's signed off, I'll start to draft the content. I populate all those details into an Airtable, which is effectively like a spreadsheet with the statuses and things like that. Then I send it to them for approval. Normally, I send the invoice around this time as well. Once I put the content live, I like to follow up with the brand to say, "Here are the results from my posts. Do you have any feedback? I'd love to work with you again."

So professional! Now let’s talk about the financials. Do you have a bookkeeping tool you use?

I use Xero. It’s kind of like Quickbooks. You can sync it with your bank feed and then you can organize your expenses as they come in. Then it helps you reconcile it with your receipts.

Ok, so you have your project management tool, your accounting tool, your analytics tool, and whatever editing software you choose. Is there anything else you think is a must have?

A media kit. Something that has a bit about you, your audience insights, any press that you've been featured in, past partnerships and clients that you've worked with, and then a rate card that outlines your rates for a deliverable. Oh! And an open mindset to continuously learn and grow.

4. The importance of staying nimble

Your platform has grown and changed a lot over the years. In fact, you recently rebranded from Melb Food Baby to Bianca in Melbourne. Can you talk about that change and what prompted it?

Sure, I love eating, but I gained eight kilos in six months. If you're just posting about food all the time, you feel the need to finish everything so it’s not wasteful. And the things I cared about changed a bit as I got older. I felt like I’d outgrown food-only content. There will always be food on my page, but I like so much more than just food. I love experiencing new things, so why don't I use that to reflect what my life looks like now?

How did your audience respond? 

Well I did it right after the pandemic, when everyone was itching to do stuff. I wanted to see more things and so did my audience. There was so much more opportunity in that space, it felt like kind of a no-brainer.

Things change very quickly in social media. You've got to be open to change, otherwise you'll just fall off.

Now is the perfect time to test new things and see what sticks. This is a chance to innovate." So I’m really trying to stay in that mindset.

It does seem like social media is a volatile game. 

It is. Right now I'm going through a bit of a rut and it's very stressful.

So what do you do?

I think it’s everyone’s first instinct to think, "Oh my gosh, things aren't performing. I don't know what's going on. I'm so stressed." But you should really think, "Oh my gosh, things aren't performing. Now is the perfect time to test new things and see what sticks. This is a chance to innovate." So I’m really trying to stay in that mindset.

Thinking about the highs and lows, do you think content creation is still something where someone can succeed?  Or do you feel like the market is oversaturated at this point?

No, I think there's room for everyone. And I think what's really exciting about the emergence of TikTok is that the barrier to entry to become a content creator is so much lower nowadays. You can have access to people on the other side of the world who are creating random videos of a parrot juggling a ball on top of their head. You wouldn't see that with Instagram. So, I definitely think there's room for everyone as long as you’re staying open minded and flexible.

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