Cliff Ravenscraft on Becoming a Successful, Profitable Podcaster

Cliff Ravenscraft started podcasting in 2005 as a hobby (at the time, he was happily making six figures a year as an insurance salesman for the family business). In 2007, the hobby became serious, and in January 2011, he quit his job of 11 years to pursue his passion full time. Having produced 2,800 episodes for over 20 shows, Cliff now makes an an impressive income as a podcast producer, consultant, and coach.

I spoke with Cliff in September, 2013 to garner some advice on building a profitable podcast career. Below are his insights on turning hobbies into livelihoods.

How to Translate a Hobby into a Career

Because hobbies often do not translate well into careers, I asked Cliff if he had any tips on building a sound business model around one's passions.

Cliff's philosophy is to view dollars as certificates of appreciation. People will give you money when you provide something of value, which could be:

Cliff Ravenscraft

  • Entertainment
  • Products
  • Services
  • Information
  • Education
  • Special access
  • Feelings of inclusion

The trick is to provide something of value (for which others are willing to pay) that is related to your passion.

How Cliff Translated His Passion into a Career

While Cliff did not expect to make an income from his podcasting hobby, he quickly discovered that he was providing something others found to be valuable by covering the TV show LOST back in 2005. He also quickly discovered that he offered additional value just by sharing his insights alongside his wife. People who first tuned in to his show sought thoughts and theories about LOST, then became attached to Cliff and his wife.

Soon, requests came in regarding the lifestyle Cliff and his wife shared- how they community, live debt free, etc. Understanding that he had additional value to provide, Cliff launched a new show: Families from the Heart.

More podcasts and shows prompted more requests from listeners, who were willing to even pay for additional episodes. Cliff then launched a special membership subscription, which gave paying listeners access to bonus podcasts (that is, podcasts made above and beyond the free podcasts Cliff continued to regularly release).

In addition to podcasts, listeners requested podcasting advice, so Cliff began offering webinars. Now, he has arrived at a point at which he is so in demand that he cannot even do one-on-one consulting, and instead offers larger group webinars and multi-week podcasting courses.

In short, Cliff launched what would eventually become his podcast career expecting nothing in return, but responded when others expressed a willingness to pay money for additional content and help. Should you want to adopt his model:

  1. Be willing to do your hobby for free
  2. Make sure your activities provide something of value to others
  3. Respond to others' requests for additional value

How to Make it Through Those Tough Early Days

Cliff may be making close to $200,000 a year now, but did not earn a significant income from his podcasting work (despite many hours of investment and a sizable fan base) for close to four years. When people express interest following in his professional footprints, Cliff expresses full support- but also warns that a great deal of work will be required well before rewards start rolling in. Since launching his first podcast in 2005, Cliff has spent over 25,000 hours podcasting and building his brand.

When asked what gets one through initial weeks, months, and years of a hobby-based career that yield little recognition and income, Cliff indicated  five factors:

  • Passion for the topic: Find something you want to do all day long (and would be willing to do for free)
  • Talent: If, for example, you only have two fingers on each hand, you may not have what you need to excel as a pianist
  • Determination: You must be willing to see something through to success
  • Faith and the support of your spouse: Cliff's wife was incredibly supportive of his work throughout the entire transition
  • Self-discipline: Without a willingness to do whatever it takes to follow your passion even when the going gets tough (e.g. when you're balancing a serious hobby-based career with a full-time job), you will not be likely to make it through difficult times

One thing Cliff did to solidify his investment in his podcasting career was to let his insurance sales license lapse after working as a full time podcaster for one year. He only made $11,000 in his first year of full-time podcasting. It was the most difficult year of his life, but passion, talent, determination, faith, his supportive family, and a good amount of self-discipline helped him pull through.

Quitting Your Day Job to Become a Full Time Podcaster

Before becoming a full-time podcaster, Cliff made over $100,000 a year as an insurance salesman. Obviously the choice to leave his comfortable job (and the insurance benefits it offered to his family) was not taken lightly (especially given that he is the primary breadwinner for his wife and children).

Factors that made Cliff comfortable taking the leap included:

  • His family being debt free
  • Intimate knowledge of his family's non-negotiable monthly expenses
  • Knowledge of income that would carry them through one half of the year (his December paycheck, Christmas bonus, and tax refund)
  • The presence of an "emergency" fund from which he could draw (instead of taking out a business loan, Cliff took $14,000 from his pension, $4,000 of which he had to pay in taxes)

In the last three months of his first year as a full-time podcaster, Cliff was profitable and able to support his family. His income has continued to rise over time. But if he did not have all his ducks in a row when he first quit his job (alternate income streams, a pension to draw from, etc.), the leap of faith could have ended quite differently.

On Paperwork and Legalities

I like to ask internet-based professionals what legal precautions they have taken, as old-school paperwork is often the last thing that comes to mind to an online entrepreneur. Cliff does three things to steer clear of legal snafus:

  • He incorporated his business as an LLC
  • He hired a CPA to help him with accounting details
  • He doesn't do stupid stuff that exposes him to liability

Cliff's CPA helped him file for corporate status, which shelters his personal assets from litigation regarding his business. Many CPAs help entrepreneurs with incorporation, so if you're looking for professional accounting help, consider seeking out professionals who offer that additional assistance.

Cliff has chosen not to get liability insurance, though understands that his choice to forego it exposes him to additional risk. Instead, he makes a point of not doing anything that might get him into legal trouble by not behaving recklessly online, avoiding unflattering remarks about other people, and not directly prescribing actions to clients (but instead sharing what he has learned from his own experiences). His general policy: It is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.