Building a brand of value with TSpices Kitchen, the food blogger simplifying recipes for Nigerians

Tosin Samuel, popularly known as TSpices Kitchen, is a food content creator, recipe developer, author, entrepreneur, and food stylist. I first stumbled on Tosin’s signature recipe thread on Twitter in the first quarter of 2020. It was a pancake recipe, but not the conventional pancake recipe. It was pancake made with overripe plantain.

I’m not entirely sure what exactly held my interest at the time – the recipe itself or the simple innovative way it was shared; as a thread of photo collages with brief captions. I immediately followed her, and like a number of her other 53,000 followers, I have made a good number of meals and pastries with her recipes.

From then up until now, Tosin’s followership and influence have grown significantly. This is evident in the trove of engagements her posts command on social media, and the calibre of brands she has collaborated with such as UBA, Domino’s Pizza, and Cold Stone Creamery.

The kicker, however, is that she never planned for or envisioned this life path. Her journey into recipe development and food content creation started with her wanting to learn to cook for herself. And now it has become a part-time job that she is considering quitting her day job for.

In this interview, we chat about how she’s built her brand, what keeps her going, and how she plans to scale over time.

I have been following you for about a year on Twitter and it’s mainly because of the way you share your recipes. It’s so simple and straightforward, something that perhaps a few people have thought about and brushed off. How did you get into content creation on social media?

Recipe development and content creation started as a hobby. I wanted to learn how to cook. I like to eat. I like food. But I did not know how to prepare a lot of meals. I could prepare the basics like noodles, rice, and yam. But I did not know how to make pancakes, coconut rice, and other common food people consume. So I told myself that I had to learn how to cook. I wrote a long list of the meals I wanted to learn to make, meals like Afang soup, Banga soup, and Edikiankong. And I told myself that as a challenge, I was going to prepare a meal per week. Because I have a day job, I only have weekends to myself. So I decided that I’d prepare a meal on Saturday or Sunday weekly. That was how I started. 

My first two attempts came out quite nicely, and I thought, “I don’t want to forget these things. Let me start taking pictures of them.” So I started taking pictures to document the recipes as I cooked. Then I started posting these pictures on my Whatsapp stories. There was a lot of engagement and someone suggested that I start sharing these recipes on a bigger platform. I was hesitant to do that; I didn’t think anyone was going to be interested, moreover, I had started this for myself. But after a while, I decided to give it a go. I shared my first recipe of a plantain frittata on Twitter to a really small number of followers at the time. The chances of my tweet going viral were so small but then it blew up. Blogs copied and reposted it on other social media platforms. And that marked the beginning of TSpices Kitchen as we know it today.

Once that happened, I started being intentional about documenting and posting my recipes. I started learning how to edit and put the pictures together to make them more appealing. From Twitter, I moved to Instagram, then I opened a Facebook account. And before long, it became more than a hobby. I had to put out content every weekend because people were waiting for my posts. People started sharing photos of meals they made with my recipes and it made me excited and encouraged me to keep at it. I started late 2018, but it wasn’t until 2020 that I became committed to it and put together a recipe book.

Do you see yourself doing this full time in the future? I saw a tweet where you expressed how difficult it’s become to balance this with your day job and that you are considering getting an assistant.  

Yes, I intend doing this full time, eventually. Although this wasn’t planned, I plan to publish multiple recipe books because I’ve realised that we don’t have a lot of cookbooks in Nigeria. The few we have are not easily accessible. So I intend to create a quality cookbook with 50 clear pictures of recipes for people to learn, this is one of my long-term goals.

My mission is to simplify recipes and simplify cooking. People don’t need big, fancy equipment, they don’t need a lot of ingredients or a lot of money to prepare quality meals. This is one of my trademarks – simplifying recipes and cooking. So I intend to go into this fulltime, build a website that people can visit to get recipes and run my social media account big time.

Alright, let’s talk about the business side of things. How have you built your hobby and passion into a thriving brand and business? How are you making money from this? And since you intend committing to this full time, how do you intend to expand and make more money from it in the future?

When I started, I knew nothing about the business side of things especially because this started out as a hobby. So I had to start studying, reading books on social media and content creation. Online, there is a struggle, some sort of competition to build followership, but that has never been me. I wanted my brand to grow organically, I wanted things to happen at their own pace. Therefore, I wasn’t particular about the monetary aspect of things but then brands started to approach me to collaborate with them, that was when it dawned on me that I could make money from this. And so I started to read about the business of content creation on social media including how influencers make money, developing a rate card, and all that.

Currently, I make the most money from my recipe book. I also make money from posting brand campaigns. At some point, I was writing about food content creation for Opera News and a bunch of other blogs. I made money from that as well. And as for making money in the future, I intend to create a YouTube channel, collaborate with more brands, create more recipe books, and perhaps launch a cookware line. Other money-making avenues might come up, but these are what I have planned for now.

Tell me about your first experience collaborating with a brand. I’m curious. How did it go?

A most memorable experience collaborating with a brand was with UBA. Sometime in July 2020, an influencer tweeted that he needed a food content creator f0r a gig. I wasn’t following him, I didn’t even know who he was at the time, so I didn’t see the tweet. But a lot of people tagged me in reply to the tweet, so he sent me a message to give me details of the job and it turned out it was an Instagram takeover for UBA. I was going to take over UBA’s Instagram account and prepare a meal during a live session. I had never done an Instagram live or takeover before then, so I was pretty nervous when I heard that. Also, I’m a pretty shy person, so I was anxious about being in front of a camera.

But I did a bit of research and proceeded to submit a number of recipes for them to choose from. They approved groundnut soup and a smoothie, then we discussed payment. I had just three days to prepare for the event and there were a number of things I had to consider and sort out. For instance, I do not have a fancy kitchen, so I reached out to a friend and asked to use her kitchen. But things started to go wrong on the day of the event; the meat I planned to use for the soup went bad, I had to quickly get a replacement that morning. I was supposed to use an avocado for the smoothie, but I couldn’t find any. I sent a message to the influencer who got me the deal to ask if the live session could be postponed and he said it couldn’t. Then the generator went off while we were filming. I honestly do not know how I managed to pull off the event that day, but thankfully, everything went well eventually. And I was proud that I was able to accomplish that. I saw it as a sign to take what I do seriously.

Alright. That’s good to know. What are the challenges of being a food content creator?

It is quite tasking. When it comes to content creation, food blogging is one of the hardest. First, you have to do some research on what you want to make, then there’s the hassle of market runs. It is also quite expensive; sometimes, I have to buy things that I ordinarily would not buy if I wasn’t blogging.

Then there’s the stress of cooking. Most times, the recipes I put out are first time recipes that I haven’t made before. Sometimes when I make them and they don’t turn out well, I have to start over. I also have to clean up after everything. If I had an assistant or someone to help, it’d be easier. But I do everything myself.

You also have to take pictures as you cook, edit and create your collages.

Yes. And once I’m done with those, I have to think up captions and consider the best time to post. It’s a lot. [But] my passion is what keeps me going. I think if this was something I started solely for money, perhaps I would have given up.

What’s your advice for people who want to become content creators, whether or not it’s food blogging?

I think a good place to start is finding the right niche for yourself. You have to ensure it is something you can motivate yourself to do; something that interests you, else you’ll burn out. Once you find your area of interest, the next thing is consistency. You know the attention span on social media is quite short; people move on easily, so you have to be in their faces all the time. You have to put out content and engage [your followers] consistently.

And then you have to be ready to work hard and make sacrifices. Also, don’t be so anxious about the numbers [followers and engagement], be ready to take things slow and steady; let your growth be organic. And ensure you put out valuable content. When people see value in what you put out, you won’t have to beg for engagement, they will tell other people about you. Whenever I want to make a post, I ask myself, “Will this help someone?” So, these are the things to note.

You talk about intentionality often, what are some of the things you did once you decided that food blogging has become more than just a hobby and that you were going to take it seriously?

I started taking social media courses on the Udemy and Coursera. I got intentional about what I read and watched. I got and read books on social media content creation, social media algorithm, influencing… I also watched a lot of YouTube videos as well. Whenever I saw or heard something that I’m not familiar with, I made an effort to learn about it. For example, the first time I heard about a rate card, I didn’t know what it was, I had to read up on it.

I also looked at what other food bloggers were doing. I did that not to copy them but to learn from them, particularly those who have been in the industry for a long time like Sisi Yemi. Then I started to map out a content creation strategy, I got a better phone to take better pictures, I learnt photo lighting, then I published a recipe book because a lot of people were asking for it.

Once you take a step, the next will follow. But you’ll never know until you take that one step. For example, now that I have an upgraded phone, the next thing could be getting a camera or an even better phone. In conclusion, I’ll say, be open to knowledge, invest in learning.

Note: The conversation in this article was edited for length and clarity. However, you can listen to the complete interview on our podcast channel.

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