The Business of Podcasting – Nerdtacular 2013 Panel

Quality Note: Because this session was a “spur of the moment” thing, we were lucky to get any sort of audio recording at all. It was recorded on an iPhone so please forgive the quality.

While attending Nerdtacular 2013, I had several folks pull me aside to ask me questions about the business side of podcasting. I have been making a living from podcasting since 2006 and my wife Nicole just recently starting working for our business as well, so while I don’t consider myself some sort of guru, I am always willing to share my personal experiences in hopes that it might help someone else.

After several requests, I suggested to Nicole that we should probably set up a panel next year. Her reply? “Let’s set up a panel today!” So we got together a couple of our closest and most successful friends (who also happen to make money online) and held an impromptu discussion/Q&A.

The Panel:
Marc Spagnuolo and Nicole Spagnuolo from The Wood Whisperer. (@woodwhisperer, @nicolespag)
Stephen Schleicher from MajorSpoilers. (@majorspoilers)
Mark Turpin (Turpster) from The Yogscast. (@The_T)

Our discussion covers a great deal of ground from sponsorships, to business entities, to advertising, to respecting your audience. Again, none of us claim to be experts in the area of podcasting for profit. We simply love the stuff we talk about and somehow figured out a way to make money from it. We hope you find this useful.

Taste My Muffins – Advice for Consumers and Producers

Imagine for moment that you love to make muffins. You love it so much that you decide to make some for your colleagues at work. Your co-workers respond with such incredible enthusiasm that you decide to make it a routine. Every day, you bring in a dozen muffins and every day they are devoured. Your co-workers clearly appreciate your efforts and seeing the look on their faces as they enjoy your delectable delights is all the encouragement you need to continue bringing the muffins in to work.

After doing this for a few months, you begin to notice an odd trend: some folks are starting to complain. “There’s not enough variety!” “There’s too much variety!” “I can make those better myself!” “You have no business making muffins if you haven’t gone to muffin school!”

One person even goes so far as to send you a lengthy email explaining how your muffins have not been approved by the National Muffin-Makers of America, and therefore your muffin-making skills are in question.

You start to wonder what’s going through your co-workers’ heads and whether or not this is worth the hassle.

Time passes, and in spite of the occasional complaints, your muffins are enjoyed and consumed daily. In fact, things are going so well that you were able to start acquiring paying customers who are willing to give you money for a premium product you now call Uber Muffins. But once again, that success comes at a price. Many folks who continue to enjoy your free muffins begin complaining that you are always so busy making muffins for your customers that you never have time to make free muffins anymore. The irony here is that you actually do continue to bring free muffins to work, but not as frequently as you used to.

So why would you continue making muffins in what seems to be a thoroughly thankless environment??

Because it isn’t thankless at all! For every person who says, “Your muffins are dry!”, there are ten times as many who feel your muffins are moist and delicious, even if they don’t feel compelled to give you the positive feedback you desire. You see, in this world, the vast majority of muffin lovers simply enjoy your muffins and don’t feel compelled to say anything about it. But when someone has something negative to say, they don’t hesitate to blurt it out for the world to hear. That’s just the way people work. But remember, the empty plate in the break room tells the tale.

The somewhat disappointing reality for muffin-makers is that if you give a dozen muffins away for free on a routine basis, a certain percentage of people will start to feel entitled to your muffins. The truth is, they love them. But if you ever change the flavor, vary the number, or possibly even forget to bring them in one day, their natural sense of entitlement kicks in and they won’t hesitate to make you feel like you’ve done something wrong, when in fact you simply neglected to give them their daily dose of free muffin goodness.

So if you’re a muffin-maker and you’re in it for the long haul, you will have to remind yourself routinely of the fact that most muffin-lovers have no reason to contact you. The ones that have something negative to say could very well outnumber the ones that have positive feedback, and that sucks. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that this very small sample is representative of the whole. It’s not! Most people are quite reasonable and they truly appreciate the muffins you are willing to make for them, whenever you have time to make them.

If you’re a muffin-lover, don’t miss an opportunity to let your favorite muffin-maker know how much you appreciate not only the taste of their muffins, but the fact that they are willing to put their heart and soul into delicious tasty treats and share them with you at no cost. Your feedback is what keeps that oven fired up.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, muffins can be replaced with just about anything someone produces. In my personal situation, it is in reference to the creation of free woodworking content and the path I took to get where I am now. On a daily basis, I deal with feedback from strangers around the world who make the most ridiculous assumptions and accusations based on the perceived frequency and quality of my free content. Frankly, YouTube is the source of most of this negativity but what can you expect from “the internet’s lower intestine.” Of course, there are thousands of kind and thoughtful people on YouTube and I always appreciate hearing from them, so let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t even know how he’d fit down the drain, but I digress.

A Night with Mateo

Mateo in the mirror

Most evenings, Nicole and I tag-team the nightly Mateo maintenance. But when one of us is out of town, it all falls on one person. This week, that person is me. I’m really not complaining though. OK, that was a lie. I am complaining. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love my son. He’s totally the bomb-diggity. But taking care of his little ass (literally) is a lot of flippin’ work! People who act like taking care of babies is all cake and butterflies are just plain crazy. Being a parent is a full-fledged job! Only with this job, the boss is an incredibly demanding 16 lb tyrant who expects you to obey orders, but doesn’t speak a lick of English! You’d think cleaning his butt at 5 am in the bathtub after what I like to call a “shitsplosion” would earn me a promotion or some sort of recognition in this company. But no, all it does is give me a whale-shaped bath tub full of poop water.

Somewhat ironically, if I were reading this blog post a year ago, I would have told myself to “Suck it up champ! No one forced you to have a baby!” My D.I.N.K. quasi-elitest attitude would have blocked any semblance of sympathy for the situation. I still respect that position although I do see things differently now.

So I thought it would be fun for the sake of commiseration or perhaps just a preview of things to come for friends who are about to have kids (‘ahem! Funk!), to review a typical night alone with Mateo.

5:00 pm – I pick Mateo up from Grandma’s (yes we are extremely lucky). We play, read books, roll on the floor, punch the dogs, and then watch a toy train go in circles for a while. Mateo then gets upset because he keeps trying to grab the train and is always a second too late. He decides he’s too cool to sit on daddy’s lap and wants to sit on the floor to get closer to the train. I abide his wishes and despite my hands supporting his sides, he tips forward and does a slow-motion face plant into the plastic train track. A pride injury really. Tears. Elmo to the rescue! Damn it! It’s only 5:15! Where are the dogs?

6:15 pm – Under extreme protest, Mateo hangs out in his crib for a few minutes while I prepare his bath and his bottle. At this point, he’s getting very cranky because he’s sleepy and tired. But the bath ain’t ready until the floating turtle thermometer tells me it’s ready!

6:20 pm – I struggle to remove his onesie. I say struggle because at this point, he’s like one of those water wienies I used to play with as a kid. He twists and turns and I can’t seem to get a good grip. Eventually I manage to pull in his flailing arms and get the thing over his big little head. Of course he hates this so we get a few loud cries. Once nude though, all is right with the world. Armpit raspberries bring raucous laughter and giggles that make me feel like a stand up comedian. I’m killin’ it! That is, until my always present stubble rubs just a little too hard and the laughter morphs into something that sort of resembles a whining cry.

6:25 pm – Like any good stand-up comedian, I quickly recover by acting out Mateo’s favorite super hero movie: The Adventures of Naked Superbaby. The general plot is simple: Mateo fights crime by flying around in the nude and pees on the villains from above. He seems to think it’s funny.

6:27 pm – Naked Superbaby flies into the tub for a well-deserved and relaxing bath. He grabs his “boyhood” with his left hand and splashes me in the eye with the other. He then sees his rubber bath dog and decides, like most things he comes in contact with, it belongs nestled deeply in his mouth. As I try to wash all of the important baby parts, he starts uttering the words, “ma ma ma ma ma” repeatedly in a mocking and menacing tone. Not sure what he’s getting at.

6:30 pm – Mateo let’s me know he’s done with his bath when he thrusts his mid-section up and over the little seat and proceeds to excrete oddly-scented bubbles into the water. Nice.

6:32 pm – Time to dry. I wrap my little bundle of joy into a towel that features a hood in the shape of a lion’s head. The hood thing never quite works out and it just gets in the way. Why the hell do we even have this thing?!?! I then lay him on the padded countertop and dry him off, Spagnuolo-style: I blow dry him. The boy loves it, just like his pop. Hey, you can’t blame a guy for wanting a dry undercarriage.

6:35 pm – Back to the nursery where I slather on gobs of goo that supposedly protect his little buns overnight. One day, I will remind my son how I used to lube him up before bed. I think I’ll save that one for his first girlfriend. Anyway, at this point, he’s like a little greased pig and I need to fasten the diaper. Nicole is the resident greased pig catcher thanks to her Missouri roots but unfortunately, I’m from Trenton, NJ. So I distract my little man with a little talking Master Yoda and finally get the diaper on. I hope it holds.

6:40 pm – Time to eat. I can tell it is time to eat, not only because of the clock on my iPhone, but because of the 7 month old baby screaming in my ear with that perfect pitch that resonates the ear drum just right. I have never heard a banshee’s scream, but I imagine this is pretty close. I quickly grab the kid, the pillow, and the bottle in one (almost smooth) motion and finally, all is quiet.

6:43 pm – He drinks hungrily while I struggle to position a book on top of the pillow. I decide to try to hold the bottle with my left hand and grab the book with my right. When I look back, there is formula up his nose and his lips are smacking together longingly. Oops. A quick re-position and we’re in business. I begin reading a tale from a Disney storybook collection. Unfortunately, the way things are situated, I can barely read the words and there is no way I can flip the page. So I strain to read the same page over, and over, and over. Just to make it more interesting for myself, I try to read it differently each time. Not sure the kid notices. Thankfully, his eyes are getting heavy. I’m in for an easy one tonight!

6:50 pm – When Mateo is at capacity, he generally doesn’t push the nipple out of his mouth. Instead, he leaves it in there so it fills up his little cheek pockets and the formula begins to flow over his lips and down his neck. That’s how I know it’s time to burp. He usually burps fairly quickly without much help. But tonight, he has something special for me: his patented burp/fart/cough maneuver. I was really impressed but also a little baffled at how he pulled it off. My baby is so smart!

6:55 pm – I put him in his little wrap sac thing that makes him look like a starfish. Normally this is pretty uneventful when Nicole does it. But tonight, he’s a squirmy wormy. Finally I get him zipped up and hoist him up to my shoulder. Let the tired crying begin! I hold him for a few minutes patting his back gently. He then proceeds to lovingly smack his head into my face repeatedly. I swear this kid reminds me of Bonk from Bonk’s Revenge (old Turbo Grafx 16 game). After this somewhat painful exchange, I lay my sweet little boy in his crib. He’s still crying a bit but I hear a constant shuffling on the mattress. I can’t see anything (blackout curtains), but I have to imagine he’s doing some sweet 80’s style breakdancing in there. Within a minute he somehow has his head wedged into the corner on the other side of the crib.

7:00 pm – I move him back to the center and begin patting his butt and the farts start rolling out with gusto! From here on out, I’m just pushing buttons and turning knobs. This is the part Nicole usually takes care of while I’m in the kitchen making dinner, and I’m not afraid to admit I’m a little lost. So I flip the boy onto his back thinking the face in the mattress can’t be comfortable. He immediately rolls himself back over onto his belly with an angry grunt. Boy knows what he likes. At this point, I put a reassuring hand on his back because I don’t really know what else to do. And suddenly out of nowhere, silence! I grab the empty bottle and trip over the dog on my way out, but thankfully I made no noise. I close the door behind me and emerge into the world a little shell-shocked. Kind of like when you go to a really scary movie in the afternoon. You come out feeling really weird and surprised to see daylight.

It was a tough battle, but I was victorious. And my hard work will be rewarded with a prompt and punctual 5:30 am wakeup. It could be worse though. At least he is sleeping through the night. And tomorrow, we’ll do it all again.

I am sure all of you experienced parents are nodding your heads and laughing at my parental “noobness”. And those of you who aren’t parents probably gave up on this post 5 paragraphs ago. But I hope it was at least a little entertaining getting a glimpse into what it’s like to take care of Mateo. I never even held a baby before my son so I have nothing to compare this experience to. I make lots of jokes about it, but being a father has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done. Being a parent is something I don’t take lightly and it was absolutely life-changing, as it should be. But one thing I have learned in my time on this planet (I say this because I plan to visit other planets in other lifetimes), is that the best things in life come from challenges. Quitting my job and starting The Wood Whisperer was risky as hell and incredibly difficult. I was sweating bullets the night I went on one knee in the surf in Carlsbad, Ca and asked Nicole to marry me. And now I am challenged every day to not only care for my son, but to provide him with a framework that allows him the opportunity to become a responsible world citizen and a productive member of society. The rewards for this are substantial! From the little things like his infectious smile to eventually watching him embark on his own path in life as he becomes his own man. Hopefully, for his sake, he’ll be a little less hairy than his dad.

Well, Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there! And Happy Father’s day to me too I suppose. Wow that feels weird to say!

A Baby, A Time Crisis, and $1 Million

A Time Crisis

How’s that for a catchy title? As you can see, my fresh new personal blog hasn’t been all that active lately. As soon as Mateo came home, all my spare time went out the door along with all of my work time as well. The truth is, fatherhood is the responsibility I didn’t know I needed. Over the last year or so, I’ve been going through a bit of a mid-career crisis. This wonderful beast called The Wood Whisperer consumes all of my available time like a greedy sponge. Anyone who has run their own business probably understands this very well. If you are motivated and there are no formal restrictions on your time investment, you essentially wind up using all of it. As a result, I fell into a “time crisis” where I felt like I was constantly spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. Reading books like The 4-Hour Work Week and other time management/lifestyle resources did help. They taught me that I need to spend more time on the things that generate revenue and stop worrying so much about what my friends are doing on Twitter. It also taught me that the pile of email in my inbox CAN wait. Who knew?? I don’t know about you, but having email in my inbox drives me nuts. It’s like being in a boat with a unrelenting leak. Every time I scoop some water out, a bunch more gushes back in. So one of my biggest lessons of the past year was learning to tackle email once or twice a day, instead of all day long. I also learned that there is a huge difference between simply checking your email and actually answering your email. One of the worst things I can do is check my email just to peruse it. Once an email has been checked, it takes up space in my brain. If I don’t answer that email, that space remains occupied. So twenty read/unanswered emails in my inbox equates to 20 things to do in my brain. What a waste of brain real-estate. So if I don’t have the time to answer, I don’t bother checking. And I only check/answer one email at a time. If I haven’t read it, my brain doesn’t know about it. This is easier said than done, but I do my best and things are improving.

A Baby

So this is where the Baby comes in. Mateo is, without a doubt, the most demanding thing in my life. Everything else abruptly dropped down a notch on October 28th, 2011. Whether I like it or not, I simply don’t have time for all the extra-curricular work-related activities. I can’t afford to edit video and let myself be distracted by an open internet browser on my second screen. Now is a time for uni-tasking, not multi-tasking. I need to focus on the core functionalities of my business and make sure they continue to thrive, while letting go of the things that just contribute to the white noise. But for all the sleepless nights and scheduling frustrations, everything with work just seems easier when work is no longer the most important thing in my day.

$1 Million

Far from it. While I get some mental relief from this revelation about my priorities, there are still some significant challenges in The Wood Whisperer camp. If you don’t know what I do, I run a free website at TheWoodWhisperer.com and a paid membership site at WoodWhispererGuild.com. A big part of my struggle is trying to balance the two sites. But I really shouldn’t paint the picture that the flowers are blooming and the sky is blue.On one end, I have the people who actually paid me money to provide them with video instruction, and on the other I have sponsors and advertisers who are paying for eyeballs. I never expected both sites to thrive concurrently so I have been burning the candle at both ends for a few years now. There is so much more I can do on both the free and paid side of things, but I just can’t afford the time investment as one would come at the expense of the other. Walking this tight rope was fine when it was just Nicole and I and working till 11pm on a Friday night was considered “normal” behavior. But now, it just seems ridiculous. So when a company recently offered to buy us out, my ears perked up.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not looking to sell my business. But I had a strong curiosity about what they thought my site was worth and what life might be like without The Wood Whisperer. While the idea of separating Marc Spagnuolo from The Wood Whisperer seems crazy, my entrepreneurial spirit just couldn’t ignore the possibilities. I mean, imagine selling off everything I have created so far and considering that the “practice run” for the next big thing; taking the big payout and investing that into my next venture. The question is, how much money would make it worthwhile/possible/feasible/smart? After all, with a little one in the house, this isn’t exactly the best time to take a gamble with my livelihood. So let me cut to the chase and say the offer ended up around $1 Million. That may sound like a lot but after taxes, the actual payout would be substantially lower. It didn’t take long for me to decide this wasn’t the right move for us, for many reasons. But I went through a bit of a mental exercise that not only solidified my decision not to sell, but also made it painfully clear what I need to do with my business moving forward. Since I had to consider what I would do AFTER The Wood Whisperer, I had to ask myself, “What would be my ideal business model?”. I’m sure there would have been some sort of non-compete clause in the contract, so what would I do to get myself back into the market?

The answer was very clear to me: I would start a new online woodworking school. A paid membership site where people could learn woodworking. I would use a good part of the acquisition money to jump start the business with a new website and a strong marketing campaign. The marketing campaign would obviously be essential since I no longer would have the power of TheWoodWhisperer.com to disseminate information. This is when the realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I already have an online woodworking school! Furthermore, I have a built-in advertising machine at TheWoodWhisperer.com! The Guild does very well with absolutely NO paid advertising. So if I sold my company, I would be selling the machine and the tools that I would need later to create my ideal business, and that is not very smart. This realization may be somewhat obvious but it was ground-breaking to me at the moment because it made me realize how powerful my free site was, even without the addition of new content. And if I am being honest with myself, THAT is the source of my stress. The free site is a hungry voracious monster that will simply gobble up all the content I can throw at it. Over the years, I have pumped about 200 videos, 272 articles, 301 Viewer Projects, 76 Shop Tours, and 102 audio podcasts (with the help of my co-hosts) into it. Yet despite this fairly large library, I always feel indebted to the free site. I made the mistake of thinking my site needs to compete with magazine websites by trying to be everything to everyone. But I am only one person. And the truth is, if I abandoned my site today, it would be a long time before I saw a decline in traffic and/or ad revenue. Sure it would start to drop off at some point, but the library of content could potentially serve as a resource for decades. So perhaps, it is time to stop burning the candle at both ends and start burning twice as bright from one. For those of you who are fans of TheWoodWhisperer.com, fret not. Let me clarify.

The thing that got me where I am today is making good quality woodworking videos with a sense of humor. I want to stay true to that. So I will no longer simply PUSH out a video out of a sense of obligation. Instead, I will put out videos when I am inspired to do so. I will simply have to ignore all the comments from “the entitled” that criticize me for not putting out enough free content and focusing too much on the Guild. The days of cranking out 40 videos a year are over. Instead, I will try to make a smaller number of videos that reach the highest bar of my personal quality scale.

I took a very circuitous route to arrive at the realization that the Guild comes first. After all, these are folks who are paying me directly for a service. Putting anything before that would be disrespectful, not to mention irresponsible. The free site will continue to showcase community work and will serve as my personal woodworking blog as it always has. Free videos will roll out as often as I can get to them……and no sooner. 🙂 I have to say, it feels liberating just to type those words!

As it turns out, having a baby and turning down $1 Million were the best things to happen to my business and my state of mind!

Mateo Week 3

Sorry for the delay on the Mateo update. Truth is, I barely have enough time to sit down and write this because Mateo has been home for over a week now! My how things change when you don’t have a team of nurses helping you care for your child 24/7! While I will certainly talk about the little guy here on my personal blog, this will be the last official update on his NICU progress. So here’s the latest:

Once he started taking full feedings from a bottle at the NICU, it seemed like he was one a runaway train of progress. The NICU doctors and nurses saw his potential and seized every opportunity to challenge him. So within a few days of my Week 2 post, he was already 100% bottle fed and half way out the door. Despite his small size and general noobiness, he was perfectly healthy and the doctors could see no reason to keep him in the hospital any longer.

As it turns out, our little stud was a NICU favorite and several of the nurses clearly felt it was a bittersweet departure. Working in a NICU must be one of the most difficult jobs ever! They work non-stop nursing sick babies back to health and giving premature babies a shot at a normal healthy life. These are amazing people and I put them right up there with teachers and law enforcement on my list of occupations I have the highest respect for.

On Tuesday, Nicole and I were invited to stay at the hospital overnight with Mateo in their “nesting room”. It was a fairly uneventful night, barely sleeping in general and fully waking for feedings every few hours. As any new parent can attest to, every hiccup and gurgle knocks all the sleep right out of you! Finally at around noon on Wednesday, we gently nestled our little boy into the finest infant car seat Consumer Reports recommended we buy. Mateo immediately dozed off and quietly enjoyed the second most significant trip of his life: the journey home.

We were greeted by a teary-eyed grandma Lorna as she took pictures and captured the moment. We put the boy down in his bassinet and so began the first day of the rest of our new lives.

Since his homecoming, he has put on some weight (he’s now 5 lbs 3 oz up from 3 lbs 14 oz at birth) and he is eating like a champ! Breastfeeding is going well and Nicole and I have managed to come up with a time management plan that works. We essentially take overnight “shifts”. This way, we each get a solid 5-6 hrs sleep instead of a series of 2-3 hour naps. Even with this setup, the fatigue can still take over, and that’s when my mom steps in. She is always willing to watch the little dude while Nicole and I recuperate.

The Silver Lining
While we could fill a book with all the negatives that can result from having a preemie (and people have), Nicole and I thought it would be more our style to close this series off with a focus on the positive. This ominous cloud has a silver lining afterall. Here’s why:

Recovery/Transition Time: Having Mateo in the NICU for 2.5 weeks gave Nicole a chance to heal from her surgery. It also gave us time to get used to the idea of being parents. Unlike most new parents, we weren’t immediately challenged with diaper changes, feedings, and sleepless nights while still being shell-shocked from the birthing experience. By the time the boy came home, we were well-rested and physically and mentally ready for the challenges ahead.

A Well-Deserved Break: Anyone who followed our saga this past year knows that Nicole had an absolutely miserable pregnancy. I think it is safe to say it was the worst 7 months of her life. So getting off two months early was a blessing in disguise. No more nausea and she was able to avoid all of those other late-stage pregnancy woes (stretch marks, hemorrhoids, heartburn, back pain, etc…).

Taking Nothing for Granted: For some people, having babies is as natural as breathing and comes just as easily. But for us, there have been major challenges every step of the way. And every time I think about all that happened and how I could have just as easily lost both Mateo and Nicole, I realize I will never take any of this for granted. When I watch my boy sleep, I don’t see a baby in peaceful slumber. I see a chest rising and falling letting me know he’s still breathing. When he eats, I don’t see a child enjoying a meal. I see him taking in life-giving nutrition and immunological protection from infection. When I change a diaper, I don’t just see cute little poopies. I see signs that my son’s immature digestive tract is functioning properly. And when I see Nicole exhausted and breastfeeding at 4 am, I don’t see a mother doing her duty. I see a strong willful women realizing her maternal potential and enjoying a deep bond with her little boy.

Nicole and I would like to thank all of you for coming with us on our little journey. Your support during this process has been immeasurably inspiring and comforting.