As with cooking, when it comes to making crucial business decisions, sometimes you just have to trust your gut.
Amanda Riva, a self-proclaimed “crazy food lover,” did just that after graduating from Montreal’s McGill University in 2010 with a bachelor of arts and a popular online cooking show aimed at students on a budget.
Riva says what started as one-on-one cooking lessons in 2008 with her university roommate “who couldn’t fry an egg” quickly evolved into a passion project, called The Hot Plate, which garnered a healthy number of fans and accolades, including McGill’s Dobson Cup for Entrepreneurship.
“Word got around and I had big groups showing up [at my apartment for cooking lessons], so one of my friends proposed we turn it into a cooking show,” says Riva.
Torn between her love for The Hot Plate and the security of a full-time job, Riva says she took the “safe approach” and, following graduation, accepted a director of sales position at an experiential agency. She backed out of it a week before her start date.
“I had a gut check and realized The Hot Plate is my future, and decided to give it 100%,” says Riva. “But when you make a commitment like that, you have to really understand the industry and quickly figure out what the needs are within it.”
Cooking shows, of course, are a dime a dozen. So Riva started working as a freelance food stylist in Toronto to help pay the bills, and in speaking with clients, discovered what the industry was missing: a “cost effective content creation model for brands,” she says.
“Customers were fairly open with me that one of the biggest challenges for them—with the growth of social media—was such an increased demand for content,” says Riva. “Traditionally in the content creation world, all of those services are offered by freelancers and that requires a high level of organization. There are so many moving parts, and when most of our customers are short on time and budget, the freelancer model—where you’re concerned about day rates, retainer fees and overtime—isn’t always the best way.”
In 2012, Riva opened The Hot Plate in Toronto as a food marketing agency offering services such as food styling, photography, recipe creation, video production and, most recently, social-media strategy and public relations.
For Riva, trusting her gut instincts and sticking with what she loves has paid off. In the last two years, her company has grown from two (Riva and a photographer) to 24 employees. Today, the agency works with 140 brands including Italpasta, Welch’s and Nature’s Path, and adds upwards of 15 new clients a month.
The agency recently worked with U.S.-based Welch’s grape-juice brand on a website redesign that included a recipe audit and photography. Today, Riva says her team is responsible for about 90% of the photography used on Welch’s social-media channels.
The Hot Plate offers more than 120 services, or packages. One of the agency’s most popular is a full-service recipe package that includes development and testing, food styling and photography for $450.
Riva says the agency continues to add services as clients request them, “so that we really can be a one-stop shop for brands that are looking for continuity.” With the addition of social media services, the agency has welcomed Chiquita and Mandarin Market to its client roster.
Her five-year goal? “Assert a positive change in the industry and flexible transparent pricing becomes an industry standard for creative agencies.” It seems Riva already has all the right ingredients in place.
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