I'm a 73-year-old TikTok influencer who has an agent and multiple brand deals. Here's how I became the internet's 'grandma.'
- Barbara Costello and her daughter run the TikTok account @brunchwithbabs.
- She never expected to have so many followers and brand deals, but now she has an agent and cookbook.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Barbara "Babs" Costello, the 73-year-old TikToker who runs the account @brunchwithbabs. It has been edited for length and clarity.
During the pandemic, my daughter Liz was expecting, so I told her I'd hunker down at her house and help her out with my two grandsons. One afternoon, when the boys were napping, Liz said, "Mom, I think you should try TikTok."
Mind you, I wasn't on any social media. I have four children, eight grandchildren, and my gut reaction was immediately, "No, thank you." But Liz insisted I could teach people about cooking.
I come from an Italian-Lebanese background, and food in those cultures and my family was sacrosanct. But I don't have any professional training. Liz convinced me to try a recipe, a very simple meal, and post a video about it in April 2020. I thought it was one and done, but when I read the comments, I was amazed at the support I got from that one little video. It was a very uncertain time, and I, an older lady, was bringing some solace and peace to people who were watching.
I never in a million years imagined I'd get to 2 million followers on TikTok and 1.3 million on Instagram. I'd been retired from being a teacher for more than 10 years, and I never thought about followers when I posted that first video.
Our growth at the beginning was steady. Then, we had periods where it just went gangbusters. Now, if I go to the grocery store, people recognize me. We've struck a chord, clearly.
We post a lot of seasonal things
Liz and I work together a few days per week. We decide what to post together, using our years of being mothers and wives, and my years of being a grandmother and teacher, as inspiration. My daughter does all the editing and filming, but I'm often managing the actual account and even responding to comments.
We really just focus on creating feel-good content that comes naturally to us. This summer, we were doing a lot of videos on recipes that use fresh fruit, ice box cakes, and barbecuing. We try to cover what people might be looking to make that season.
Many comments I get say something like, "I was never very good in the kitchen and afraid to try new things, and you've given me that confidence. Seeing you do it looks like it's easy."
People also really love hacks. People are looking for shortcuts, so I try to give them things that I've learned throughout the years. And not only do I do recipes, but my account has also evolved into motherly advice. I have a little series I do called, "Did your mother ever tell you?" that's been received nicely. Then there's the "slice of peace" series, which is a little philosophy tidbit that I share. So I've kind of become a mother or grandmother figure to many people out there, which again, I never realized we would go in that direction.
@brunchwithbabs Tea towel hostess gift hack #motherlyadvice ♬ original sound - everyone’s grandmothers
A lot of companies reach out to us about brand deals
When I first started posting, people would be like, "Oh, I love that top" or, "That's such a cute pair of earrings." I was a Talbots shopper for years. Talbots was aware of that, and came to us and wanted to do a temporary partnership, which we did last summer for two months. Then, in early August, they said they had a larger proposal. Now, I'm their first-ever ambassador, and I've been working with Talbots for over a year.
It's really hard to last in this industry if you're in it for the money because it can take a very long time to get there. And between recipe ideas, grocery shopping, baking, cooking, clean-up, editing, and posting, it's a full-time job. We were doing it just for the joy we were spreading for 15 months, and then brands started slowly reaching out, and eventually things started picking up.
When we realized there were not enough hours in the day to handle dealing with brands, we knew we needed an agent. A few started reaching out, so we interviewed different agencies and decided on the one we felt most comfortable with.
We've said no to brands that we don't think are appropriate for our channel or dovetail with our philosophy: food, family, and things that make life easier for our followers. I've always bought Nellie's Eggs at the grocery store, and we're working with them this year. It was sort of out of the blue that they contacted our agent. I'm also an ambassador for Roth Cheese, a wonderful company from Wisconsin, and Laundress. These are really high-quality products that we're using and sharing with our followers.
When we work on a partnership, we never just make it "ad-y." We always try to connect it with a recipe or something that the viewer could eventually save or use.
I have a cookbook that came out in April
We got an email from DK publishers in spring 2021 that they would like to publish a cookbook from me, and I never in a million years thought about that. At my age and my schedule at that moment, I was hesitant as to the commitment. However, after a little back and forth, plus assurances from the publisher and my daughter's encouragement, I said, "OK, but it's got to be a different cookbook — it's not just going to be a chapter on appetizers, salads, entrees."
So we made it based on holidays. "Celebrate With Babs" starts with New Year's Day and ends with Christmas, and includes all the holidays we celebrate as a family in between, including Oktoberfest or Halloween. I share in the cookbook a lot of the recipes that I've had for many years.
We use all the money we make to invest in the business, but this year, for the first time, we're drawing a salary.
You have to be passionate about this, obviously
You can't share something that you're not convinced about. The more what you're doing resonates with people, the more the business end will grow.
For now, our goal is to continue to build a community we like to call our "extended family" by feeding them in more ways than one. We're also currently exploring other new long-term projects, including a licensing deal for a kitchen line.
Working out of a busy home with young kids is tough, and there are days I feel like many things are not working all at once. But this is also an amazing experience being shared by a mom and daughter, no matter the difficult days. You have to just stay positive and keep on doing what you love.
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