Food By Maria founder Maria Koustogiannis has loved food since she was a little girl.

Growing up in a Greek family, she remembers watching her mother make simple and delicious dishes; dishes that would later inspire her own cooking.

How social media catapulted Food By Maria to success. Produced by Nina Grossman.

nina FoodByMariaFood has always been a huge part of Maria Koustogiannis’s life, but it wasn’t always her friend. After struggling with an eating disorder, Koustogiannis spearheaded online company Food By Maria to share her food journey with the world. Photo by Nina Grossman

From ‘sweet mango chili lime pizza’ to ‘vegan dill pickle roasted chickpea gyros’ and everything in between, Koustogiannis’s mouth-watering plant-based recipes make for stunning visuals and she knows it.

“I use Instagram a lot,” she says. “The photography sells itself.”

But Instagram views don’t equal dollars unless users know how to market and strategize their content. Advertising contracts with other companies help Koustogiannis make money from her posts, and it’s not the only way she’s producing an income online.

Food By Maria is a company wearing multiple hats. From an e-book, a popular online blog, an Instagram account with over 60,000 followers and baked goods sold at bistros around Calgary, the only thing it doesn’t have is a physical location.

“I make money through the blog and its advertisements,” Koustogiannis explains. “I make money from freelance contracts with other companies ... I make money with my products [and] I make money with my e-book.”

FoodbyMaria InstaFear not, food is your friend! Instagram is one of the online methods Maria Koustogiannis uses to draw traffic to her blog. Koustogiannis is one of many young entrepreneurs using social media to market unconventional, Internet-based companies. Photo by Nina Grossman

Devin Limpert is president of Enactus Calgary, the local branch of a Canadian non-profit helping to advance entrepreneurial projects. Limpert says young entrepreneurs need to be “innovative, driven and passionate.”

Limpert also says social media allows young business starters to market online and pay for ads that can drive consumer awareness.

“The ads, especially on Facebook, can be very targeted by age demographic [and] location so you’re able to reach someone that you couldn’t reach physically,” he says.

The Food By Maria blog reveals how the company was born after Koustogiannis’s relationship with food was tested by an eating disorder.

“I was sick with bulimia,” she says. “I would constantly shame myself.”

“Social media allows you to tell the world whatever you want,” she adds. “[But] what I know for certain is people relate to people who are human.” – Maria Koustogiannis

Eventually, she came to a crossroads, realizing something needed to change.

“The moment I realized, ‘Okay you’re sick, you’ll end up killing yourself if you don’t stop. Love the person you are and let’s make this change.’”

Koustogiannis says sharing her past helps her connect with clients and followers online, creating a community of openness and body positivity.

“I have a story to tell and I think people enjoy watching someone succeed when something that used to be their worst enemy is now what’s driving them and helping them succeed at life,” she says.

“Social media allows you to tell the world whatever you want,” she adds. “[But] what I know for certain is people relate to people who are human.”

While her online empire continues to grow, Koustogiannis future plans for Food By Maria include an app, a food show, a motivational speaking tour and one day, a small bistro where she can sell her homemade goods.

“What I preach is: If you want something you have to go for it,” Koustogiannis says.

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