Entrepreneur: Toni Okamoto

Biz: Plant-Based on a Budget

Tilt: Affordable plant-based recipes

Primary Channel: Instagram (484K)

Other Channels: Facebook Page (224K), Facebook Group (84K), blog (200K monthly views), podcast

Time to First Dollar: A few months

Rev Streams: Ads on site AdThrive, three cookbooks, e-books, brand sponsorships (most successful stream of income), and brand recipe development 

Our Favorite Actionable Advice

  • Listen to your audience: An advocate of plant-based eating, food blogger Toni heard from many people who were concerned they couldn’t afford to eat that way and pivoted her content.
  • Listen to your supporters: Toni took the advice of a friend and CEO who helped her develop a SWOT analysis for her business and set a three-year annual income goal.
  • Listen to Toni: She says you shouldn’t expect an Instagram post to go viral or become an overnight success. Show up every day to play the long game.

The Story

Toni Okamoto has been a blogger for over 15 years. In 2004, she started writing as a hobby on platforms like Zynga and BlogHer. Then, in her early 20s, she worked in social media for various companies and ran their blogs. At the time, she was the first social media manager or coordinator hired by several companies. 

In 2009, she ran a blog about mid-century modernism in Sacramento that became a local success. In 2012, she started the blog she runs today, Plant-Based on a Budget. The passion project grew over time. “I wanted to help my family become healthier eaters because they were suffering from all these diet-related health issues,” Toni says. She was on a plant-based diet and wanted to show people how it can help them feel good and thrive. 

But many people she spoke to thought their financial status prevented them from living a plant-based lifestyle. So, on her blog, she focused on creating some of her family’s favorite plant-based recipes using ingredients from Walmart and local grocery stores. 

#Blogger @ToniOkamoto pivoted her #ContentTilt from general plant-based recipes to affordable versions using ingredients from Walmart and local grocery stores. #ContentBusiness Click To Tweet

When laid off from her full-time job in 2016, The Plant-Based on a Budget blog was still a hobby. A friend who was a successful blogger and her now-husband encouraged her to pursue her blog full time. Her parents, on the other hand, were skeptical about her career pivot. 

Toni put herself through community college and hustled hard to get to where she is today. “I did everything I could; I didn’t sleep,” she says. She transferred to the University of San Francisco, where she learned business strategies to apply to her blog. “I started to shift my mindset from ‘I’m a hobby blogger’ to ‘I’m a business entrepreneur.’”

Unglamorous beginnings

“I didn’t know how to do anything and didn’t have any money because I’d been laid off from my job,” Toni says. She had been living paycheck to paycheck on a non-profit salary. So she worked with brands on her blog – even if they weren’t relevant to her niche – because she needed the money. 

In the beginning, @ToniOkamoto got laid-off from her job and worked with brands on her blog even if they weren't related to the niche because she needed the money. #ContentEntrepreneur #SponsoredContent Click To Tweet

In late 2016, she turned down a book deal because it was not financially lucrative. She had less than 20K Instagram followers and began focusing more on her social media presence. This food blogger was offered $200 to create a few Instagram posts for a baby stroller brand (even though she didn’t have a baby at the time). “I wouldn’t do that now. I don’t write about babies, but I desperately needed the money.”

Setting income goals

In the very beginning, Toni had a Patreon account where friends and family contributed $100 a month. One of those supporters, who she knew from swing dancing, was a CEO. “He told me he would meet with me to do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and a three- to five-year projection. I’m like, ‘This is crazy, I’m just a food blogger.’” 

An early Patreon supporter helped @ToniOkamoto do a #SWOT analysis and set an annual revenue goal of $70K in three years. It made all the difference, she says. #ContentEntrepreneur #Blogging Click To Tweet

He encouraged her to set a goal of earning $70K within three years. Toni says at the time, she thought that amount was as realistic as $1M. But, in her third year in business, she earned $70K.

“He dreamed big for me. Just setting a goal and working really hard toward it, and having someone else dream big for you, like a partner, goes a long way because I was able to bring in what he thought I could bring in during that third year. Now I’m able to support a team of six.”

Networking proved to be one of her greatest assets. “This (CEO) guy just donated $10 a month to my Patreon. But what he gave me in confidence and taught me how to figure out my own value was priceless. So networking is really important.”

Being featured on What the Health, a 2017 documentary, was when she recognized her business was a success. Hundreds of thousands of people tried to get on her website and crashed it. “That was the moment I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m accomplishing my original goal and fulfilling my mission to help people eat plant-based,’” Toni says. 

@ToniOkamoto says being recognized in the documentary What the Health on @Netflix made her realize she accomplished her original goal. #plantbased #contententrepreneur Click To Tweet

Instagram advice for content entrepreneurs

Her Instagram platform has been slow growing without a viral post or overnight success story. “My only advice about Instagram is to stick with it. Show up every day. It’s about the long-term game and consistency,” she says.

She follows a lot of people in her niche to see what’s working for them. “I don’t want to get into the comparison trap. But it’s nice to see what people are engaging with in my field. And so, I monitor what’s out there,” she says.

While she used to post her content only one time, she now recycles seasonal content to get more out of the content.

As for her future plans, Toni doesn’t have an exit strategy: “I am in this for the long game. And I hope to do it forever. I really love it.”

About the author

Bonnie owns Word of Mouth, a content agency specializing in social media, content marketing, and editorial writing. She's written for Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Coveteur, Man Repeller, Health.com, and more. She loves wearing fanny packs and laying in the fetal position.