Career Q&A: Ann Otis from Our Happy Mess

Ever wondered why you felt so unmotivated in your job? Or what it's really like to be a food blogger? Ann Otis from Our Happy Mess let's us in on her world.

Lady smiling and stirring with a wooden spoon and bowl

My name is Ann Otis and I’m a food blogger, photographer, and videographer at www.OurHappyMess.com, a website I founded in 2017. Basically I get to work with food all day, exploring different ingredients, making and developing recipes, and often making dinner for my family in the process!

Speaking of my family, I’m mom to two extremely active little boys: Jack, 6, and Leo, 2. I live with my husband and kids in the Mile End in Montreal; a great, family-friendly neighborhood we love and have lived in for the past 15 years.

We spend our days working from home (me with food, and my husband with music), shuttling the boys to their many activities, and exploring the city.

What is your business? 

A couple of years ago, I started making food videos for my own website and social media, and quickly realized there was a huge demand for this service from other bloggers, as well as brands. 

Through my contacts in the food blogging community, I quickly grew the freelance side of my business and now spend a large amount of my time on client videography, in addition to maintaining my own website.

I work with everyone from big international brands that are household names to bloggers like me that need content for social media and their sites.

It’s hard to get bored doing this work! My days involve any number of projects from taking and editing photos and videos, creative writing, developing recipes, to more mundane stuff like resolving technical issues, accounting, and answering endless emails.

Why did you decide to start your own business, versus work for someone else?

I worked in accounting for various private, non-profit, and government organizations for almost 20 years. This was interrupted only to get my BA in Psychology, which I never actually used, but don’t regret either! 

I had always dreamed of being an entrepreneur, but was never sure what I wanted to do, only that I wanted to work with food. I had loads of ideas, and started a few projects, but nothing panned out until I started my blog on a whim one day, soon after I returned to work after my first maternity leave. It took a few years of working evenings and weekends on it to start seeing a profit, but it has changed my life 100% for the better and I’m grateful every day that I get to do what I love, and do it for myself, not someone else.

All I can say is, Figuring out what your dream is takes time.  Following that dream takes time. But if you love it enough to plow through and not get discouraged, you WILL make it happen.

Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was and how you knew it was what you wanted to do? 

It was around 2008 when I first discovered food blogs. I had recently moved in with my now-husband and was getting into cooking. I loved reading blog posts and followed many bloggers closely.  At the time, food blogs were almost online diaries and bloggers were so relatable and really felt like friends. I wanted to be a part of that community.

Times, and the blogging world, has changed now, and everyone is writing for Google more than to connect with readers. Bloggers are told to “cut the blah-blah and get to the recipe” so that’s what most of us are doing now. My blog started out a lot more personal and this is what I initially loved about it. But even if I find less joy in the writing part now, cooking, developing recipes, photography, styling, and videography are more than enough to keep the creative spark alive.

What business books/resources would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?

If you think you want to be an entrepreneur, but funds are limited, and you’re still in the dreaming/exploration stage, I found The $100 Startup (and all of Chris Guillebeau’s books) really inspiring. He delves into the stories of dozens of people that turned their passions into successful companies on shoestring budgets in a very diverse range of fields. While it’s not exactly a roadmap with specific actionable steps, if you’re not sure what you want to do, or how to start figuring it out, this book will help you think outside the box to find ideas you might never have considered.

Once you’ve found an idea and are ready to think about marketing, Seth Godin is your man. I highly recommend his book Purple Cow.

I found another invaluable resource in listening to podcasts. There are so many experts dispensing some serious gold in podcasts. Even if you can’t find a podcast that addresses the specific field you’re interested in, there are countless great podcasts on digital marketing, running a business as a woman or minority, and other topics of general interest to entrepreneurs.

How has becoming an entrepreneur forced you to grow?

Becoming an entrepreneur usually means that at some point you will be managing people, whether you are hiring employees, or just outsourcing some tasks to a contractor or company. 

I’ve always disliked being managed - or more precisely - “micromanaged” - myself, so managing others was something I never really wanted to do. 

It took a real mindset shift to get used to the idea of guiding others to help me fulfill my visions, and that is truly how I see it. My biggest tip would be to find people you mesh with personally. Job qualifications are obviously important, but finding someone you feel aligned with, and who seems personally invested in your success is almost more important. Skills can be taught but those other qualities are priceless.

Job qualifications are obviously important, but finding someone you feel aligned with, and who seems personally invested in your success is almost more important. Skills can be taught but those other qualities are priceless.

What’s the biggest benefit to becoming an entrepreneur – personal, professional or both?

There are so many benefits to being your own boss, but with young kids, the ability to change my schedule to accommodate the many sick days, snow days, ped days, and school and extracurricular activities is huge! 

I can also choose how much vacation time to take and never have to worry about coordinating with co-workers.

I can choose how much work to take on and my income follows. More work, more money. Or less work, more time with family. My choice!

What have you learned about yourself since becoming an entrepreneur?

I always thought I lacked discipline and motivation, and that this was why I always felt stalled in life, like I was just going through the motions, in a total rut. It really brought me down.

But when I finally found what I was truly passionate about, it all clicked. I didn’t need to force myself to work, even for those first 3 years, when there was no income from my site at all. I saw that this was something I loved so much I was willing to do it for free for years. 

The problem wasn’t that I was lazy, just that I hadn’t found my passion.  

Find your passion, work hard, and the rest will follow!

The problem wasn’t that I was lazy, just that I hadn’t found my passion.

If you need encouragement, feel free to reach out! You can find me through my website: www.ourhappymess.com, on Instagram or Facebook.

You can also email me at ann@ourhappymess.com

Thank-you so much Ann for participating in my Career Q&A!

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