It has been way too long since I have provided an update on my project. Many things have changed, and I want to share it all with you.
I started this project in the summer of 2018, so by the time of my last journal entry in May of 2019, I was still in the mode of enjoying the production of episodes. We were well out of the 2018 political season, so my podcast episodes expanded to cover a wide range of issues including electric vehicles, sports, entrepreneurship and much more. I enjoyed having many authors and other guests come into the podcast studio to share their projects and expertise. I also had been doing many of my solo podcasts where I was able to express my own opinion.
As we got into the summer of 2019, I realized that this was something I really wanted to transform from a hobby into a business venture. I had visions of doing this project well into my retirement years and having it spin off a modest income. A money-making operation was not my original objective, but I began to realize there was opportunity. I certainly had the enthusiasm. It was only a matter of figuring out a strategy.
There are only so many ways to make money directly from the podcast. One option is finding advertisers, but it is a tough sell when your audience is so modest. I knew if I were to find advertisers, it would require a great deal of hustle on my part and I would be selling them on being a supporter of the project because they liked what I was doing rather than it being something that was going to offer a return on their investment. Plus, even if I did secure a sponsor or two, it would likely become a case of advertisers dropping out and needing to be replaced. I decided I was not going to pursue this revenue stream until I had a significantly larger audience that would be attractive to an advertiser. This would probably take some time because building a podcast audience is a slow process.
Another alternative is to have a subscription model that offered paid content to complement the podcast. This could be a pre or post episode show only available to subscribers or bonus extended time with a guest. But I was not sure how I could do that technically.
I also considered donations through Patreon. I setup an account there and had one small donation from a good friend. Still, I had mixed feelings about this. On one hand getting donors for a podcast is quite common. People want to support podcasters if they are delivering quality content. But I also did not want to feel like I was begging for handouts. This was also around the time that Patreon was getting a lot of heat for shutting down people’s accounts that expressed views they did not like. I kept my Patreon page but chose not to promote it. I may circle back to asking for donations at some point, but likely through my own website rather than through Patreon.
So, it became evident that I was not going to generate much revenue from the podcast itself. Instead I needed to think about the project from a different point of view. What I have to do is sell products and services that are consistent or complementary to podcast content. In other words, I had to view the John Riley Project as more than just a podcast. This instead needed to be an enterprise that created product, resold other company’s products, offered services and then then podcast would be just be one component of the overall project. The podcast would need to be a marketing tool that attracted an audience, promoted my offerings and either generated leads or sold product directly.
Now it was a matter of what to sell. What product would be consistent with the content I discuss on the podcast? I decided that I had 6 basic categories of topics I discuss. I called them “swim lanes” and they are:
- Poway/San Diego/Local content (interviews with local personalities, discussion of local issues)
- Politics/Liberty content (local and national politics, liberty-centric topics)
- Entrepreneurship content (business owners, authors)
- Electric Vehicle content (road trip journals, discussion of technology)
- Self-Improvement content (self-help, mindset)
- Sports content (Padres, Aztecs, local sports)
My plan was to create product aligned with these 6 swim lanes. There were all sorts of products I could offer: online training, shirts/hats/mugs, a book, public speaking, professional products and services from my business and more.
The easiest place to start was a t-shirt. But I did not want to maintain inventory, manage packaging and shipping and other tasks. It had to be easy. It had to be something that I could automate so the orders would flow and be fulfilled without being involved in coordination. I discovered there is a business model setup for precisely this called Print On Demand (POD). The two most popular companies are Printful and Printify and they offer a wide range of products that can be imprinted with all sorts of artwork. This was perfect.
By this time, it was November 2019. I went about creating a few websites to sell product. I contracted with graphic artists on Fiverr.com that were really good and really inexpensive that created designs to suit my needs. I organized the website to take credit cards with Stripe. I integrated Printful’s API into the site so it can accept orders, produce the product on demand and then ship it to the customer while depositing cash in my account. I setup the products in Printful and then synchronized them with the site. I had multiple websites all setup with a perfect machine to sell and fulfill product.
But there were problems. If you want to use a quality produced t-shirt blank, then the wholesale price is quite high. When you add a reasonable margin to the product (I was aiming for keystoning at 100%), the retail price for the shirt is exceedingly high. I experimented with lowering the profit margin to make the retail price more in line with expectations. But even then, you could only clear about $10 per shirt, often less. This would require selling volume to come up with any significant net income for the project. But I wanted to get started, so I gave it a try.
I ran paid ads in Facebook, attracted customers, and successfully sold products. I was off to a nice, albeit very modest start. But then COVID-19 hit, and everything went sideways. More importantly, Printful was struggling to fulfill orders because their plants were either being shut down, or they could not find employees to do the work. Because I did not want to create disappointed customers, I hit the pause button on paid ads and have essentially left these sites dormant. I do plan to return to them and begin promoting again.
I was also feeling discouraged. I was still trying to figure out this Print on Demand model, but I knew it was going to take a great deal of advertising, experimentation with different designs and I likely would have to diversify my production so I wasn’t relying on any single manufacturing partner. Plus, I knew that if I cleared only $5-$10 a shirt before my advertising costs were included, then this was going to be a small-time operation.
I knew all along that the real financial opportunity was in creating my own digital products. These would be products I could create once and then sell over and over again without any third-party manufacturing or distribution costs. Plus, if I chose the right products, I could sell them for dramatically higher profit than any Print on Demand or third-party products. The Print on Demand products will need to be a “nice to have”, not a strategic set of products for the enterprise.
Right now, I am figuring out what I will create. I have ideas for a book which would be a fantastic bucket list project. Given my 55 years of life lessons, business experience, overcoming major obstacles and ultimately achieving success, I think I have a good story to tell. Plus, by being a published author I would get a significant boost in credibility that will help me in my podcast, make me an interesting guest on other podcasts and possibly could open up some public speaking opportunities.
I also have ideas for online classes to teach various business skills that could be valuable and not too daunting to create.
I expect this effort to create my own products to be very fulfilling and enjoyable. It will also help me narrow my focus in the podcast. I expect I will still discuss politics and current events to attract an audience. But then half way through each episode I will transition to discuss content about improving your personal and business life which will then be consistent with the products I will be offering.
This is a project. I said that from the start. I am learning as I go and enjoying the ride.
I also have a technical update for the podcast.
One of my goals was to start livestreaming the podcast because I wanted to invite a dialogue with viewers. I wanted to give them an opportunity to ask questions and comment on the topics I was discussing either solo or with my guest. But where do I start?
The first thing I learned is while my Mevo camera could livestream to many social media platforms, it would not work with Zoom and thus I could not interview guests online. Plus using the Mevo I did not have an easy way to manage text-based Q&A across multiple platforms. So now what?
Meanwhile my video producer Zeke had been urging me to get a better camera. He liked my Mevo but knew that it lacked some of the control and lens quality of a pro digital camera.
So, I invested in a Sony a6400 camera, a Sigma 30mm F1.4 lens, and a Magewell USB capture device that converts the camera’s HDMI output to USB so it can be used as a webcam. I also purchased a pro floor mounted tripod, a long HDMI cable and some shelving and lights for my background. The learning curve on the camera took a while, but I figured it out… or at least I thought I did.
I also discovered that while I could use Zoom for the livestream, Zoom would only livestream to Facebook or YouTube, but not both simultaneously. Plus, I would have to be in Facebook or YouTube to manage the text comments. I discovered an app at StreamYard.com that allows me to livestream to both Facebook and YouTube (and many other platforms) at the same time, plus a user interface that merges all of the Q&A into a single system for easy management during a live stream. StreamYard also saves a recording of your audio and video which makes things quite easy when preparing the audio-only podcast upload.
But I did run into a challenge. The video in some of my livestreams looked fine to me, but for my users the video quality was choppy/pixelated and the audio was distorted. The primary problem was likely that I was connecting to the internet over my WiFi network and an ethernet connection would be necessary for quality livestream video. But my podcast studio is in my living room and my router was in my office. So, I had to move my podcast studio into my office to make this work. I do plan to have an ethernet port installed in my living room later this year.
But the ethernet connection still did not solve the poor video quality problem. I suspected it was the camera sending way too high of a resolution of video and thus I was pushing too much data through my internet connection. So, I had to dial back the resolution and screen size in my Sony camera.
I thought this solved my problem entirely and for a while it seemed it did. But then today in a livestream I was getting reports that my video was problematic again. I am now suspecting I have a technical problem with laptop where sometimes my CPU usage will spike to 100%. I am now trying to resolve this problem.
It is amazing how much I am learning as I go through this process. That is part of the fun. Plus, it is a great way for me to grow and challenge myself.
More to come. Enjoy the ride with me.