M. Serena Essuman owns a real estate brokerage company with her husband and is also the creator of lifendlemons.com – a lifestyle blog focusing on fashion, parenting hacks, beauty tricks, household tips and food and recipes. A licensed fitness instructor, Serena tweaks many of her recipes on Life and Lemons to reduce the fat and sugar content. Be sure to check out Serena’s blog at lifendlemons.com and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, to name a few.
According to your bio you were born in Italy, raised in the Canary Islands, and now you’re based in Utah. So can you briefly tell us a little bit about your background, and how you became a lifestyle blogger and influencer?
Like you said I grew up in Italy, I lived there until I was 14. Then my family moved to Spain so that’s where I went to high school, learned Spanish, I emerged myself in the culture. And then I came to Utah to go to college.
And when I graduated I feel like blogging was still a very new thing and I watched a lot of my friends doing it for a very long time. And at the time I just wasn’t ready to do it. I was confused about it. And I think a lot of it came from me not believing in myself that I could do it. But then about a year ago it just kept eating on me, over the years it just kept coming back, and finally I just got up the courage to do it and that’s when I decided to setup my website. I started reading tons of articles from other bloggers. That’s the beauty of it, in the blogging industry you can learn so much, and so that’s when you can benefit from other bloggers, and that’s when you realize that there is so much to be learned.
Yeah, for me it came because I felt like I like to read books, I have lots of certifications, and I just wanted to be able to share what I knew and what I treasure, and value, with others.
You have a real estate license, a mortgage license, you’re licensed as a fitness instructor, you’ve owned and operated multiple businesses, including a salon for children. And I’ve read that you’re heading into the medical field. How do you and your husband structure your week so you can take on all of these endeavors while raising a family?
Well I think, and it’s the same for a lot of influencers, you don’t do it alone. You can’t. Yeah, I couldn’t be a hairstylist and I couldn’t be a doctor at the same time. So yeah, you don’t do it alone and you divide up the tasks. And I think you also learn to do what matters most and cut out what doesn’t.
Another thing that I want people sometimes to remember is I don’t … My husband and I we don’t do everything all at once. You do it over the years and you build upon on it. So yeah I didn’t wake up one day and I have a restaurant, I’m a hairstylist, I’m a doctor all at once. You do it little by little.
Like one year I focused on real estate, the next year I focused on mortgages. And then over the years you look back and then you’ve built up all those credentials but it’s, like I say … I think it’s making sense with my own self as I’m saying that, that yeah if you try and do it all you can’t. You don’t physically have enough time in a day, but as you do one thing at a time then those things slowly build one on top of the other and that’s how you get places.
I’m interested in your approach to recipes as well on your blog, you can check out on lifendlemons.com, where you focus on cutting down on the sugar and the fats. And I think a lot of people when they think of Italian food they think of big plates of Fettuccine Alfredo and tiramisu for dessert, but Italian cooking is quite nutritious, inherently, isn’t it?
Yes. We eat tons and tons of vegetables. We actually barely use butter. And I’m talking like you could buy a cube of butter at the store and it will … My mom would freeze some of it because she would not use it. Yes we definitely do a lot of vegetables, a lot of fish, a lot of lean meats and sometimes not any at all actually at all in our meals. And so yeah that was something that, for me, I wanted to try and share because that I take recipes and I immediately, if it says to two cups of sugar I always change it and I cut it down to one or I’ll put Stevia.
And so that was something that I kept playing with it over the years and then these recipes were turning out good so I wanted to record them, whether it’s for my own family and friends or just for others to be able to see.
What are some of the favorite recipes on your website people should check out?
I have a coconut lime recipe, we actually made it last night. And another one that I made … I did an orange Bundt cake as well recently and that one had monk fruit sugar, so it’s not even a sugar at all, it’s a natural sweetener. So those are my two top favorites that come to my head on top of it…
One that’s not as healthy, actually, but I re-posted it twice. One I post original, the recipe of it, and then the second one I did where I cut down butter. It’s a Carmelita. It’s kind of like a cookie bar with granola on top. It has oatmeal and you can make it with whole wheat flour as well. And I made a new version where I cut down the butter as well, so there was about half the amount of butter.
As an influencer can you think of any memorable brand collaborations you’ve had over the years?
Yes. One of my favorite recently was with the brand called Osmo. They do educational activities for kids. And for me it came so naturally just because I have been homeschooling my kids and I bought their products five years ago, so I wanted to collaborate with a brand that I naturally loved. I mean I didn’t want to sound like a raving fan and like it was the only brand that… Like a brand fanatic when I posted about it but I was really excited because I seriously have owned their products for five years. It was like a no-brainer to me. It was like please, please. If anything I was ready for them to say yes and when they did I was just so excited.
What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about getting into influencer marketing or starting a blog but they’re not sure what the first steps to take are?
I would say start with the blog, design your blog. There is different platforms that you can use. But obviously design your website first, start with that. And first just know that it’s not going to be perfect. So be okay with things not being how you would like them to be at first.
You’re going to look at bloggers that have been doing it for 10 years and maybe they can afford an in-house designer, they can afford to have people even shoot posts for them, they have full-time editors, so at first you may not have that. So be okay with saying, “Okay, it’s just me right now. I’m going to start small.” So give it time. Be okay with things being not how they are, but know that if you want more, if you’re looking at it and it’s not where you’re at, that’s great. That means that there’s a little bit of that perfection in you and that artist that wants to come out. And know that as you go you’ll find the answers. So work on one tiny little thing at a time.
And then I think sometimes a lot of people get stuck in holding back, like they’ll … I did that too. I actually would post drafts, write them, and I would save them as drafts, and never push them through, because I wasn’t getting as much traffic and I was afraid. And now actually two years down the line I’m learning that it’s the more content that you post what creates that traffic, what makes your website rank better, so don’t hold back. Sometimes we’re holding back for that later moment for when we make it but yeah just keep pushing through things.
And have a support group. And that means another friend that likes to blog or that is doing it, whether it’s a Facebook group or an Instagram group, a blogging group. Somewhere where when you have questions you can ask, because if you try and figure it on your own it’s great but it will probably take you a lot longer, rather than going to someone and even saying, “Hey I’m thinking of working with this company. I’m thinking of doing this, if you liked them,” and then you can get that second opinion and that will make things go a lot faster.
And then the last thing would be, yeah be willing to learn. I think the beauty of blogging is that you … I like the fact that someone said to me that … It’s actually a friend of mine who her job is to work with other bloggers to help them push their own posts live. And she even told me that blogging is something where you need to be a person that is willing to learn, and constantly grow, and constantly change. So if you’re a person who likes to learn you’re a great fit to be a blogger because you have so much knowledge and so many things that you can share, so you also don’t hit those moments where you have that block where, “Okay, do I have anything else to provide next?” So yeah, keep on learning and keep on sharing what makes you or makes you different, what your voice says.
Do you have friends (or others) that help you with your social media posts?
I know other bloggers will have full-time photographers, where once a week they get together. I’m not doing that yet. I genuinely love photography so for me this has been great because it’s pushing me to keep on taking pictures and to keep becoming better. What I do, actually I follow YouTubers and I follow other bloggers that teach you photography. But then other times it’s my husband and my kids.
And then quarterly I do hire … I’ll have a good friend of mine that’s also a photographer … And I like having someone that’s a friend because I try not to be staged but for me to be myself and to be okay with doing … To try to represent the life the way it is I need someone that it’s a friend of mine, so we can be ourselves when we’re taking the pictures. If that makes sense? So if I’m changing a diaper and she wants to take a picture of that moment, like on our daily life, at least I feel comfortable and she feels comfortable.
But yeah. No, you were asking what other help do I get? I have had hired a little bit of help with fixing up a few kinks on my blog. I honestly just have gone on like Fiverr. I’ll just go on websites and hire freelance people to help me out with that and they’ve been great. I’ve had someone offer to do editing if I wanted to. I’m not to that point yet, but I’m sure if I was doing it constantly at a major scale I would definitely need that help.
And then yeah, obviously for Instagram there are lots of tools and lots of ways to get help with getting your content exposed. I’d used it on and off. Currently I’m not using anything for that.
Are there any books or any other resources that have helped you along the way when setting up your blog and kind of getting into influencer marketing?
Yes, absolutely. So I actually wrote them down because that way I could have the titles and the authors. But one of my favorite ones is … It’s called Influencer by Brittany Hennessy. And I love her because she represents the other side of influencers, which is a side where she works for brands and she’s covering the influencers. So she helps you know exactly what brands are looking for, what voice you need. And in the book she gives lots of encouragement to anyone who’s trying to do it. I love that she just reminds people to do it because of your voice and you want to share that with the world.
The next book that I really love it’s called Instagram Marketing by Leonard Carli. That one, again, teaches you how … Because blogging and Instagram they’re two platforms that work so much together, so that one also teaches you how to create that story and how to share in a way that can resonate with people.
And last but not least I love … It’s actually for YouTube but I learned so much because I really think it works for any platform, whether you’re on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube. It’s called YouTube Secrets by Sean Cannell. And he’s actually a YouTuber and I think he’s on Instagram as well, and he’s pretty big on Instagram. But that one, again, teaches you how to grow from zero to big growth; how to do things like looking at the trends, calendars; how to approach people when wanting to collaborate; and just how to grow and how to be consistent, and persistent. And he does have an engagement group as well for anyone that wants to join, and wants to find that support and find connections in the industry.
So yeah, I hope that helps.
Note: Influencer Spotlight interviews are edited for time and clarity.