Growing your business regardless of audience size with Matt Ragland

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Matt Ragland was an early member of the Creator Economy with leadership roles at ConvertKit and Podia. Now, Matt runs a creator-centric agency focusing on course development and email newsletter growth, and is a full-time creator with over 60,000 YouTube subscribers and 12,000 email subscribers.

In this conversation, Matt shares advice on balancing business and creativity, as well as how he was able to use his email list to become a full time creator.

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Episode Transcript

00:00 Matt: Maybe 5% of my revenue comes directly from YouTube AdSense.

00:14 Akta: Matt Ragland is a productivity YouTuber with over 60,000 subscribers. He's managed to become a full-time creator, but it wasn't his YouTube channel that did this alone. Hey, everyone I'm actor. And in today's episode, we get to hear how Matt was able to become a creator for a living by using his email list.

00:31 Matt: So my creator journey started in around 2010. Blogging was really big then that was like the only thing that people did, like Twitter was in its infancy, like no one really like was on social media in the same kind of way, except for Facebook. And so what I was doing was just writing a lot. I was following like, I think it's Darren Rouse, I think is his name. I'm gonna feel bad if I mispronounce it, but like pro blogger and copy blogger. Brian Clark started that site. My friend, Jeff Goins, who I had started reading, there were a handful of people that were like really big into content marketing copywriting.

And that was what I started doing as a creator in terms of having that output that was intentional and special and something that I was basically at that point, really just doing for me. Now, the first thing that I did that I got paid decent money for, like, I wrote a couple of eBooks that, that was another thing like, and sold them you know, like five copies for $5.

And I was like, great. I can go get some drinks now or something, but the first thing that I did that I like made some money on was I started helping people set up their WordPress themes. And I, like they said like, oh, like you're a developer. I was like, no, not a developer at all, but I can like help you press the right buttons to get your WordPress theme set up and run.

And so I've done all kinds of things. I've done podcasts, I've done blogs, I've done YouTube channels, which is where I made the most progress, email newsletters. I've done all the things. And I've also worked at a couple of startups, but yeah, the, the Genesis of all that was about 2010, 2011.

02:18 Akta: And then eventually you went full time, which, I mean, you were working at Podia, weren't you, and you've also got two kids. So making that decision to leave your job whilst you've got a family, that's a massive choice to make. Like, how did you know you were ready to kind of go full time into being a creator?

02:34 Matt: Yeah, it's a really, it's a really good question. I'm glad you asked that. I still think about that, that question and what the timing of an answer like that is. For me, I was spending a lot of time. At that time on my side hustle, cuz that's what it was. I was working at Podia just like I had been working at ConvertKit before that. And what I realized was between spending time on my side business, spending time on my main job and spending time with my family and still having some personal time for myself, there just wasn't, there weren't enough hours in the day, like literally, and I'm a very time conscious person sometimes to a fault and I just realized that to do the things that I want to do well, including obviously, you know, be a dad and a husband and, you know, be, be healthy and happy myself, one of those things was gonna, one of those, you know, three, four things was going to have to take a significant step back.

And obviously it wasn't going to be my family. It wasn't gonna be my health . And so it really was like, I need to I'm gonna step into the unknown to start to do my own business more so than I was interested in continuing to go through the status quo as it was at the time.

03:57 Akta: And at that point, do you feel like you were making enough money from YouTube, from your email course to support that decision? Or did you kind of have to build your way up to that?

04:07 Matt: I did have to build my way up. And that took about a year of really intentional, like savings and launches and trying different product types. And what I had told myself was if I can do basically about three consecutive months of averaging $10,000 a month in side hustle income, then I would feel good enough with. Some savings that we already had, to take the leap. And so I had done, I had done that and it was still very concerning because like I had had maybe a $10,000 month in the past, but then it was followed by several, you know, not $10,000 months, like thousand dollars months.

And it was like, okay, if I can start stringing these together, then I can get around where even if there's a dip, on the average, I can still get pretty close to what I was making at Podia before. And so that financially was the math that I did. It was like, okay, can I have like a few months of savings? And then string together a few months of getting close to like replicating what I had at my main job then, I was basically giving myself about a six month buffer to try and do that. And those numbers are gonna be different for everyone else. Like we weren't in a place as a family where, you know, we wanted, my wife was only working part-time she was not interested in going full-time to like, make up the difference.

And so, although, like I probably could have done it a little faster. I definitely like in retrospect could have waited longer and saved up more money, but like mentally I was at that point, I was ready to make the change.

05:52 Akta: But that's actually a really good strategy that you had, but I'm actually really surprised because $10,000 is quite a lot of money and, you know, your, your YouTube channel, like it's big, but it, you are actually earning more than I would have maybe expected.

So like, what are your revenue streams? Like, how have you managed to do that?

06:11 Matt: Yeah. I'm glad that you made that distinction because, maybe 5% of my revenue comes directly from YouTube AdSense. Like I haven't quite unlocked whatever the potential might be, for massive AdSense income. It's, the most I've ever made in an entire year from YouTube directly is $8,000.

And that is so, you know, that's not near enough. The majority of my revenue comes through my email list and then through the courses and coaching that I promote through that, and that is the majority of the revenue. And there's this, there's this really interesting, like, kind of flipped audience outcome that I've seen that for me, my, my email audience, I use ConvertKit for email, but I have about 8,000 email subscribers, active, engaged email subscribers.

And I have just over 60,000 YouTube subscribers, but I would say at least 80%, if not more of my, of my revenue comes through like direct email marketing, more so than YouTube. Now granted, lots of people who are on, I would say the majority of people who are on my email list have come through my YouTube channel.

But like when I like offer one, offer separate coupons, there are a couple of different ways that I can track it. The majority of sales come through, people who see a coaching offer or a course offer inside of email than just like seeing it organically on YouTube. So even though my email list in terms of numbers is, you know, a fifth of the size of my YouTube audience, it is like that inverse. It is four to five times more impactful on revenue, even at a, a much smaller size.

08:10 Akta: That's incredible. It shows you the power of a thousand true friends. Doesn't it?

08:13 Matt: Mm-hmm .

08:14 Akta: So did your email list come after your YouTube channel then? And like, how did you actually manage to grow, you know, like an engaged email list? Is it like Twitter, YouTube, or how did you do it?

08:24 Matt: Yeah, it's been really interesting. The majority of my list growth in the past came from, again, this is kind of going back to my blogging days, that the, the biggest way that people grew, their email list back in the day was through, and still do to this day but it's not quite as effective or popular, are the kind of things like they call them lead magnets. So it might be a PDF that you get or a checklist or a, you know, video training series and in, you know, in theory, all of those strategies can still work, and we can talk about that in a little bit, but I was doing things like my early chan, my channel was really built on a base of like bullet journal templates, walkthroughs, productivity tips. And so what I was doing for, email list growth is after I would do a bullet journal video, I would say like, Hey, if you want to get a template for how you can do this weekly spread inside of your bullet journal, just, you know, go here, enter your email, you'll get the PDF right away. And that's how I get the majority of my email list early on.

Now, the things that are working the best are like special video training. So I might have a 10 to 15 minute more like teaching style video that can go out through email different than like the more YouTubey like quick, quick cut stuff. Webinars and like live workshops, still work really well for me. And then like free email courses. Those have converted pretty well also. So I might do like five days of different lessons about productivity that go. So it's a little, it's a little bit more than a, like download once, maybe never look at it again, PDF. I think people kind of caught onto those, not in a bad way, but they, they worked for a long time and still do work in, in the right setting. But it's not as like cut and dry as it used to be.

10:14 Akta: And are you still really strategic about doing this? Like, would you kind of find ways to grow your email list like pretty often, or is it whenever you. Feel like doing it, if you know what I mean?

10:26 Matt: Yeah, of course. Well, the nice thing about YouTube from an evergreen perspective is all of those videos, especially the ones that are performing pretty well, all of those lead magnets still exist. And so my big, like journaling or bullet journaling or productivity emails, if I have a template or I have a free course, that's listed in the description I'm saying in that video, like, Hey, check this out in the description they go. And all of those things are still live and bringing in regular subscribers for me.

And so that, it is a long term play, but all those things like it's like Jack butcher says like build once, sell twice, or, you know, build once, download an infinite number of times. So all those things are still active. The list growth pieces that have worked the best for me that I am trying to be more intentional about is promoting like live workshops.

Cause there are like three or four workshops that I do. Like we could start doing one literally right now that I can just like, I don't have to prepare for it anymore, but I can talk about it on a YouTube video. Just as like a call to action aside at the end of a video, I can also promote it on Twitter or LinkedIn. And I know I will get, I know I will get, you know, a handful, not a handful, probably like 50 to a hundred new subscribers whenever I want to promote those. I try and do those once, once a month. And then I'm also telling my existing, like, subscribers about it and trying to get them to like, share with their friends. But those are the things that I've found to be working better these days.

12:00 Akta: And then you've also started like courses, coaching, things like that to like kind of diversify your income. Like, how did you decide when you were ready to start something new?

12:10 Matt: Yeah, it's a, it's a good question because this is something that a lot of people, a lot of creators you know, struggle with. And I do think something that I've come to believe is that most creators wait too long to start trying to like earn money. I'm not, I make a distinction between like, earn a living, like go pro and just like earning anything, because there was a belief in my perspective that you couldn't really like start to earn on your blog or your blog, or like any of your channels until, like it was time to go all in and I could have fell into that trap a little bit. And what I learned was that it's a big deal and there's a lot of pressure when you feel like this launch or this year needs to be the launch that gives me enough money to quit my job. And, you know, so I kept waiting for like, okay, it's time for, you know those success stories that I see like, all right, I had this six figure launch and I was like, I will take a 50, $20,000 launch would be great as well. And I put a lot of pressure on myself. I think a lot of people put pressure on themselves when it comes to monetizing products, courses, coaching, cuz they're like the first one or an early one has to be the one or I'm a failure. And what I learned is that it's much more incremental than that. And so what I try and help people with and try and encourage people to do is like literally start small, like whatever, like, which you think the easiest first product can be.

I find for most people, especially for YouTubers, like a paid live workshop, that's like $37, $47, that's focused on one specific outcome. Like. I did one last year about, Hey, here's how to, here's how to get enough ideas, create and edit your first 10 YouTube videos. So really specific. It's not like how to like, not anything huge that like what you know, how you and I met through Ali, but, it's like one really specific thing. Like how can I create my first video for YouTube? And then how can I do that? Nine more times to get 10 videos out. And like, that was an hour and a half workshop. I charged $47 and 20 people signed up and that was a thousand dollars. And I can pretty much do that, or something like that every month.

And I'll probably come away with like $10,000 just from doing that for an hour and a half, once a month, every month. And the extension of that, that I think is, is important to realize is if I'm doing that in a live workshop that's an hour and a half, there are lessons throughout all of that. And if I do it multiple times, I'm gonna get enough feedback and enough questions from participants, that's why I like doing it live, so I get that feedback, to then say like, okay, well, I'm just doing this as a 90 minute live program. I can also, I could literally take these recordings, but now I can take this and I can turn it into a course. And so now it's $147 like self-guided course. And if I wanted to take it as, if I wanted to take it past that, then I could do a six week like cohort program and say, I'm going to help you over six weeks, like actually create these first 10 videos.

And you can do that for all different kinds of topics, but that's actually. A process that I went through, like, I'm gonna do a workshop and then I'm gonna do a self-guided course. I'm gonna do a cohort course. And then for everybody who'd been a customer for any one of those. I said, Hey, if you want, now one-on-one coaching over the next three months, then it's this. So it's like from a $47 thing to a $500 to a $1000 coaching program, we can go all the way up and down that scale.

15:50 Akta: That's amazing. I mean, you've got a really good mindset when it comes to treating your channels, like a business, which is something that I really struggle with. And you kind of hit the nail on the head when you said a lot of creators start too late. So like, how do you know when the right time is like, if somebody's got a hundred subscribers, for example, on YouTube, like at what point should they be like, okay, maybe I should start thinking about monetizing some of what I'm doing. Like how, how do you know when the right time is?

16:16 Matt: Like, if you hit about a hundred, a hundred subscriber mark, and that could be on YouTube, I think it's especially useful if you're, if you have started creating an email list cuz you can start an email list at any time. And then if you're, if you're talking through this and I think especially like if you focus on normally shorter videos, let's just say just to get a single idea out. I'm a really big fan of like sharing one idea at a time, cuz it's less pressure on me as a creator.

It's also clearer for the viewer, for the reader, for the listener as well. It's like, okay, this is the only thing that I need to focus on. I don't need to try and remember like three points of this. So that's, that's like one piece of. But you could like, sometimes I help people with this. They don't have any audience at all, but they do have like connections and they do have a network. And so we try and think about, my friend, Justin Welsh was talking about this the other day, and he was saying like, just pick a topic that you can talk about without any prep for 30 minutes. And start to outline the main points of that, this is something we've worked on together, outline the main points of that.

And now you basically have the outline of a workshop that you could do, or a series of posts, a series of videos, and one of the things that can really help, I think a creator make a mental transition between like, I'm going to like share something versus I'm going to sell something, which is a big, like, it's a big mental switch to make. But one of the things that is so useful about courses and workshops is that you are helping curate information that you've already shared. And so like one of, the name of my podcast when it's running is Connect the Dots, but I really like that. I really like that concept. Thank you. I really like that concept of thinking about like, okay, like, yeah, all this stuff is out here.

Like I have over 200 videos now. So it's, it's unlikely actually at this point that I'm going to talk about anything that I haven't talked about for free on YouTube or especially if you combine YouTube and my newsletter together. There's very few things that I'm actually going to talk about that I haven't talked about before, but what I'm doing is assembling them all in a curated, like concise fashion so that you can go through and see like, oh, I see. Like I'm connecting the dots for you and with you so that you can say like, okay, well I could search through all of Matt's videos and be like, okay, I gotta start here. And then I'm gonna watch this video from three months later, but then I gotta go back nine months. There's none of that. It's like, here's the path.

And then like doing cohorts and doing coaching is just a matter of saying like, okay, here's the path now let's walk it together. And I'm gonna like, you know, help, help, go through it, which even in a relatively brief live workshop is something that's really useful because people can like literally kinda raise their hands or, you know, come off mute and be like, oh, well you talked about this, here's my situation. And I can give immediate feedback and they're learning something because like, I get to share with them, but then I'm learning something too when I'm like doing anything live because people ask a question and be like, oh, I thought that was really simple. and they're like, no, not simple. Like, okay, well now this is something else that I can talk about. This is something I can add a new lesson or a new section of a workshop for. So it really, it really is a win-win like I learn a lot whenever I go live with people.

19:45 Akta: So how much time do you spend kind of on the creative aspects of like filming, editing videos like writing a newsletter, versus kind of like the more business aspects of the creative side. Do you manage that balance pretty well? Is that natural to you or...?

20:01 Matt: It's not... because I really do enjoy the creative process and the creative process, even though there is like, a bit of mental resistance or at times a lot of mental resistance over thinking, like, is this going to be creative enough? Is this going to work? Do I like, is, are people going to resonate with this? There's all still all of that, but I've done enough at this point that I can pull myself out of that, like monkey mind, sometimes. A lot of times I'll just be like, okay, you've done this before. Just like work the system, do what you know, you have to do. And then let the algorithm do whatever it's going to do.

From a business perspective that has been a little bit more challenging for me just especially, and kind of tying back to going fulltime, like it felt relatively easy for me to, not relatively easy, but to make something, a profitable side hustle that like made real money, I was able to get to that point, but now I, you know, it was much more of a roller coaster last year than I expected to like, keep that like seven to $10,000 a month, consistency of income, especially to cover like, basically both like for our whole family.

And so it was like to have the discipline of working on the business side of the business, of the channel versus like and how that would be frustrating to me sometimes, or I wouldn't get the results that I want, or it would be you know, a long time to hear back from someone or just doing outreach, doing all those businessy things did not feel as easy to me in the moment as like, well, I know how to make a video, I'm gonna go make a video. But there was, or I know how to write a course lesson, I'm gonna go write a course lesson, whereas, there is a, there is a balance I'm, you know, I'm glad you put it that way because I can make all the things that I want to make, but if, there is a distinction between, like, if you're not making those in a way, that's also going to turn into revenue that help your business grow, or even just like, stay at a livable level and everyone has their own, you know, living living levels. They're, you know revenue benchmarks . For a family. There was just a, there's a bigger learning curve than even I expected. Feeling I had a pretty good handle on it. , and it was still a lot more than I expected.

So in terms of a time distinction, I would say last year I spent minimum 60%, maybe 70% of my time on the creative aspect. And this year I'm trying to get it a lot more balanced. And one of the ways that I've been able to do that is like I did hire an editor to help me with my videos because I realized, I'm a good but not great editor. And what, what helps me make videos is actually like shooting the videos, not necessarily editing them.

So if I hire an editor, then I can pull back on my creative time, like in the big, in like the big picture, but actually still have more time to make videos because I'm not spending half of my creative time editing. Now I'm getting that like say 10 ish hours a week back, and I can make another video or two and only spend five to six hours on creativity, give those other four to five hours to the business, and win-win because the channel is creating more videos and I'm working on the business more. So that, that has been really helpful.

23:40 Akta: Amazing. Thank you so much.

23:42 Matt: Yeah, my pleasure.

23:44 Akta: As a YouTuber, I always think that you need a massive following to becoming a full-time creator. So I'm really inspired by Matt's strategies to be able to build up his revenue. You can find Matt on YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn by searching for Matt Ragland, he offers coaching and also sends a newsletter once or twice a week to help you boost your productivity. Thanks for listening in to our conversation, and if you are a creator, come say hi at @getpassionfroot on Twitter, stay passionate and I'll see you in the next one.