I’m surprised by how many interviewers will pitch socks, mattresses, and other random goods for their sponsors but never sell their own products to their audiences.
You might be OK forgoing the revenue, but by not selling your own products, you’re missing an even bigger opportunity: to understand your customers and make their lives better in ways that only you are qualified to do.
Pat Flynn is a master at selling products to his audience that solve real problems. Pat has been interviewing about as long as I have. One of his favorite topics is the art of podcasting. By talking to podcasters in his audience, he realized that one of their biggest frustrations was posting their podcasts on their own websites. That’s because traditionally, podcasts were meant to be played in dedicated podcast apps. With this insight, Pat created Fusebox, an audio player you embed on your website. He nailed a problem that plagued my business for years. I’ve been a grateful customer of Fusebox for a long time.
There’s a satisfaction that comes from solving your audience’s problem in a way that no one has before. But you don’t have to build a software product. Jamie Masters sells coaching. Jason Calacanis sells access to his angel fund. Sam Parr sells research.
The important thing is to understand your audience well enough to know their pain. To do that, many marketers recommend sending surveys. I hate filling out surveys, so I rarely send them out. I also don’t like how survey responses tend to lack depth and details.
My preference is to offer coaching calls. When people talk with a coach, they tend to open up about their issues because they need help. They offer deeper insights than a survey could ever elicit because the conversation allows the coach to ask probing questions.
Several years back, I decided to diversify my income beyond ad sales. I could sense that some of my listeners were struggling with something, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Some sent me complicated mind maps that they made based on what they learned from their favorite entrepreneurs. Others asked me if I could create a search engine to find and listen to specific parts of my past interviews with entrepreneurs.
So I put out a call for listeners who needed coaching. I left it vague because I didn’t want my preconceptions to limit what they asked for. I simply said I’d help listeners with their business issues. Then I got on Skype with them to talk. Most of what they asked for I couldn’t help with. That’s fine. As an interviewer, you don’t have to solve every problem. If I couldn’t help, I said I’d ask future interviewees about the issue raised.
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Eventually, the coaching calls helped me find a pattern. Listeners liked my interviews because they heard what was possible in entrepreneurship. But they struggled to figure out how to execute on those opportunities. That’s why they made mind maps and wanted detailed search options. They were trying to decipher the steps to accomplish what my guests had accomplished.
Developing a solution for my audience took a lot of trial and error, but it eventually became my favorite revenue source because it addressed a real need. Instead of helping listeners hunt through my interviews for the how-to content, I invited the entrepreneurs I interviewed to teach master classes.
These master classes are essentially how-to interviews with clear visuals. If you read the section on how-to interviews, you understand their structure. I sell them on a subscription basis. For only $399 a year, listeners get access to all my master classes.
Over 200 entrepreneurs have taught master classes so far. A few examples: Sam Parr, founder of the Hustle, taught the step-by-step process he used to get his first 100K email subscribers. Ankur Nagpal, founder of Teachable, the software used by over 100K teachers, taught how to create and sell a profitable course based on data from his most successful users. And Justin Kan, who founded Twitch, the live-streaming site that was sold to Amazon, taught how to create products people want.
Master classes seem like an obvious solution in retrospect, but I had to try several different approaches before settling on this. I tried Action Guides, which were written based on interview transcripts, but they lacked depth. I tried live webinars, but listeners outside the U.S. couldn’t show up because of timezone issues. I tried selling recordings of individual master classes, but I couldn’t get enough viewers to make the instructors happy. At each step, I talked with my customers, understood their problems, and tried alternatives.
My in-depth conversations with the audience and the resulting understanding of their needs are what make product creation one of my favorite parts of the interview business.