David Siteman Garland is the founder of TheRiseToTheTop, one of my favorite business oriented blogs, and “the Number One Badass Show, Resource & Community for Mediapreneurs.” He is host of one of the Internet’s most popular, successful and longest running web shows, and he has a message for broadcasters. You, too, can make money online.
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David, for people who are not familiar with The Rise to the Top, what is it and how big is it?
The Rise to the Top is an education company. We have a show and other elements, but we serve a very specific subset of people – a group we call “mediapreneurs.”
I define “mediapreneurs” as experts, authors, personal brands, people that create content online and offline who are looking to leverage that online and build a business from it.
I do a variety of different things to help them. I do a weekly long form interview show, a weekly short tips show, and then I’ve got a lot of different products and coaching pieces that help people achieve their goals.
Since I started in 2008, we’ve had over seven million downloads of the content. We have 250,000 people coming to the content every month.
I think there’s a misunderstanding about the tools we use online. It strikes me that in many ways tools are easy because they are ubiquitous. Tools create platforms that are also easy, but creating content and monetizing that content is hard. Why do we obsess so much on the tools when the hard work is really about the content and the monetization?
Oh, it’s such a great point.
Number one, it’s fear. People are scared of doing the actual monetization and the content so what they end up doing is obsessing on the tools because it’s very tangible. So it’s like, oh, I don’t think I’ll worry about trying to make money because I’m trying to figure out where to place my microphone for the next 15 hours. And what ends up happening is people are like oh, here’s a tool, here’s a tool, here’s a tool, here’s a tool – a new tool is coming out and they never actually start making the money or building the business.
I can’t tell you how many times I hear from people that are fans of my show or just in general call up and ask advice. The biggest problem they have is really “how am I going to make money or how am I going to go about this?”
To me, that’s just a critical sticking point for a lot of people and I’m out to help people with that.
So much of social media is all about “connection,” yet that connection is valueless unless you focus on what you do with it and how you make value out of it for you and those you are connected to, right? What’s a big group of fans without a strategy really worth?
I’ve seen people with email lists of fans or subscribers – with 1000 fans or 500 fans or 750 fans or 2000 fans that are making six and seven figures.
I’ve also seen people with 10,000, 50,000, 100,000 and up fans that are barely making anything, and that’s scary. It’s scary because the part that they had missed out on is positioning themselves and the brand to make money. I think we’re moving into an era characterized by what I call “the expert model,” which is teaching people something.
My first big product hit was teaching people how to do an interview-based web show called “Create Awesome Interviews.” I took knowledge that I built up over the years and packaged it into a course for $495. People could learn at their own pace. A huge number of people don’t have to purchase it to make it successful. Do you get what I’m saying?
We had several hundred people purchase something for $495 and that ends up generating a lot of income, and now you have customers.
So a big shift that I made in the business was from strictly a “media brand,” which is all about trying to just get sponsorships and advertisers and the biggest possible audience, to what I would call an “educational” or an “expert brand,” which I call mediapreneur. That means that the real focus of our business is educating people and giving them tools and products to help them succeed. That’s the thesis statement of the business and the show and all the other content supports that.
That traditional media world you evolved out of is the one I live in every day. It’s a world of content being presented to people very often for free in exchange for advertising, sponsorships, etc. Can that world be comprised of mediapreneurs, too? And if so, how?
Well yeah, but it has to shift. So here’s what I mean.
First of all, I do have sponsorships and advertisers still on my platform. I’m not knocking that. However, I don’t view that as a long-term business model for having success because I hear too many people with that model who are crying poor. I don’t mean that in a negative way. They’re telling me “I’m not making any money.”
On the other hand, when you hear people who are selling information or coaching or software – whatever it might be – these are the people crying rich.
Interesting. So how do we mold these two things together? That’s just where the confusion was.
So when I started I had that old media mindset, if you will, even in a new media world. I could now control my own show, do anything I want, but I’m going to go for volume. I’m going to go for five shows a week, and I’m going to try to get as big as possible and broad and bring in these sponsors and advertisers. Well, the problem in my opinion is that the world is changing so quickly and attention spans are changing and where people spend money and how they spend money – all of that is changing.
I made a shift. I said, okay stop, let’s really think about this. I changed the model so that now I publish free content twice a week. One’s a long video/audio which is about 30 to 45-minute interview, and the other is a five to six minute tip video. Honestly, you could get away with one or the other. So if you just have a show and do it once a week, you’re going to be more than good. And it happened when I stopped publishing five times a week and decided to make a real business out of it by creating products and creating things to sell to people directly.
We’re going to get sponsors and stuff. I want to have control of my own customers. That was the key. Once I started selling to people, you are no longer the middle-man for everything. You control the customers. Someone came to me once and he said, “David, let’s say you could have $250,000. And you had a choice – one sponsor for $250,000 or 250 customers paying $1,000. Which would you prefer?”
The next thing I know I’m thinking to myself, wow. If a sponsor wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, my $250,000 is gone but that’s not going to happen with customers and clients unless you’ve created something really, really poor.
So that was the shift that I made, and it’s the one to make if you’re really struggling and you want to make your online platform into a business and make money.
If you want to be a hobbyist instead, that’s great. Do whatever you want. That’s awesome, I have no problem with hobbyists, and I encourage that. But if your goal is to generate revenue then the shift is from the show being the business itself to the show supporting the business and your business is something else.
That’s interesting. So you’ve pulled the focus away from generating ever-more reach, right, which was the easy commodity, to more impact for the people you already reach. It’s analogous in the radio space to a public radio model or a Christian non-commercial radio model, where the “platform” is supported by consumers who pay in exchange for the value created on-air, right?
Right, exactly. There are so many different ways to monetize. That’s what’s exciting about it. There so many different ideas – memberships, subscriptions, coaching, products, services, etc.
It used to be volumes and volumes and volumes of content and just going, going, going and now – not only is this better, but it requires less free content. Better but less, and also more focused in terms of who this content is for.
When I started The Rise to the Top, it was just about entrepreneurship in general. So if you’re an entrepreneur, tune on in, this is for you. But that includes everyone, you know what I mean? So then I narrowed it down to online entrepreneurs because I realize that’s really what our core audience was. But then, that also has about a million pieces, so I narrowed it further to this new category blending exactly the type of person that I wanted to listen and consume the content – that’s the mediapreneur.
The mediapreneur is working from home or wants to work from home and doesn’t want to have a big team and isn’t interested in raising money. They are interested in selling their expertise or something really cool and living in this lifestyle. Once I got to that point, I pointed everything towards that, understanding that our audience is not going to be a million people – that’s not the goal. The goal is to have high quality awesome customers and people who come in and really enjoy the content, so that’s where that shift came.
I think there’s some distance perceived between the “shift” you’re describing and the business of radio as it is now. But we have many people who know media and how to reach consumers. We have many personalities, people who talk for a living, people who entertain for a living, all of these folks could potentially build out that platform and find other ways to drive revenue. That’s really what you’re describing, isn’t it?
Yeah, and you can drive revenue. Once you figure it out and commit to it there’s nothing better than waking up in the morning and having a sale from something that you didn’t necessarily have to go do yourself. Does that make sense?
For example, I wake up this morning, I see someone that bought Create Awesome Interviews for $495. I see someone bought my coaching program and I see someone bought a tutorial for $75. All right, that’s a great start to the day. You know what I’m saying? I can pretty much go out and lay on the porch.
Now, can you get to that point? Absolutely. Look at what people will actually buy from you and consider what you can package in a how to format. A how-to that people are interested in.
Let’s say you’re in comedy; is there an improv course you can put together? I don’t know what it is. Or if you’re doing a health and fitness thing, is there a how-to that you could put together? How-to, when it comes to information, is the number-one seller.
If you could get people an outcome with that how-to, that’s something I want people to think about. I’m not saying change your whole career. But I’m thinking maybe there’s a revenue stream here that’s untapped for a lot of radio people. You’re already great at creating content, that’s why you have a radio show. So now package some of that content up and sell it to people. A little bit of a different format and really make some money so that you get to wake up and high-five yourself in the morning.
What David is describing here is getting money not just from the sponsors or from the advertisers that surround the content and bring it to you for free, but also from the actual fans that love you and what you do because you’re providing extra value that they’re more than happy to pay for it.
Exactly, that’s exactly what it is.