How to Turn Your Passion into a Viable Business – @scottniswander
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It is possible to build a business around your passion, people are doing it everyday. But aside from passion and commitment, what separates the successes from the failures?
Making sure you are not a carbon copy of other businesses in your niche is a great first step. Think about how you can differentiate yourself, even if that is just by taking a different angle or “spin” on the same topics as your competitors. Other tips such as maintaining an editorial calendar and making sure that you are doing your research will go far in helping you reach your goals.
By taking what he was truly passionate about, Scott Niswander was able to earn an income, and amass a large following with his YouTube videos, all originating from his love of the comic book genre.
Rich: With a love of comic book superheroes and a passion for learning, Scott Niswander founded NerdSync Productions to help teach fascinating subjects and ideas through the medium of comics. Researching anything from science, philosophy, art, culture, history, psychology and more, he aims to show everyone what comic books can teach us about our own everyday lives.
The popular NerdSync YouTube channel has allowed him to spread that message and grow an incredible worldwide community with over 200,000 loyal and nerdy subscribers, myself included. Scott, welcome to the show.
Scott: Hey, thanks for having me.
Rich: This is great. I mentioned before I am a big fan, I’ve been watching your videos for a long time now. Let’s jump right into it, I’ll put all the important marketing questions out there. What’s your favorite superhero?
Scott: That’s a tough one. I would say most of the time it’s definitely Spiderman. I know that’s a really boring answer, because everyone wants me to pick some random, obscure character that nobody talks about a lot, but it’s definitely Spiderman for use.
Rich: That is not a boring answer, that is the only correct answer, by the way. If you were in my office right now you would see there’s about 27 Spiderman pieces here, including a wall calendar from 1978 that is only correct every 7 years.
Scott: That’s amazing.
Rich: I’ll send you a picture after the interview.
Scott: Please do.
Rich: So a very important question, how did you get started? What drove you to create your own YouTube channel to share your passion?
Scott: It’s kind of a long story but I’ll try to keep it brief. Way back in the day I was in high school and I was doing a graphics communication class. I always loved computers so I thought I’d do some graphic design sort of stuff. And then I started doing some Photoshop and my friend told me about a program called After Effects, which is basically Photoshop for video. And that really got me on my way to love film making and making videos and especially doing visual effects, lens flares and explosions and all that sort of stuff. So shortly after that I really just devoted all of my energy into trying to make videos.
I’ve had many YouTube channels over the course of my life – which is very short – but most of them didn’t turn out very well. I would try to do short films or sketches and I was inspired by other YouTube channels like Film Riot or Video Copilot and Indy Mogul, so I really wanted to do filmmaking tutorials, even though I, myself, was not a filmmaker. So I was just in way over my head.
I went to college for film – I never finished, I never graduated – because I started a vlog series when I was in college. I thought instead of just practicing film, what if I just actually started making videos and put it up on YouTube and see what happens. That slowly turned into NerdSync where I started doing the show that I do now, Comic Misconceptions, because I’m a big fan of comic books and I just wanted to talk about them with people because I don’t have a lot of friends who like comic books. And slowly but surely it just morphed into what it is now.
Rich: Very cool. Now as I mentioned before we started recording, I’m really impressed by what you’re doing and I really think there’s a lot of lessons for small business owners – like myself – to take away from what you’re doing. So let’s talk about your process for content creation. Currently how often are you publishing to YouTube?
Scott: On a good week it’s 3 videos.
Rich: And are those all under the NerdSync brand?
Scott: Yes, those are all NerdSync shows. I have a vlog channel, but I rarely ever update it.
Rich: Ok, so the 3 times a week, I notice that you have different styles of videos. You have your Tie-Ins, you have your Comic Misconceptions, are you pretty regimented in terms of creating these type of videos?
Scott: I’m very schedule oriented. I have all of the video – for at least Comic Misconceptions – planned out through June because I just want to make sure I know exactly what I’m doing. With the other shows it gets a little tricky because we only post Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But we don’t have just 3 shows, we have like 5 or 6, I actually don’t really know off the top of my head. We have a lot that we’re doing right now.
So 3 shows share Friday, so we always have to mix around and decide what it’s going to be this Friday. It gets really complicated because it’s the first time I’m ever delegating shows to other people where I’m saying, “Hey, friend of mine, this is your show, please make episodes for it”, and I’ll schedule them to go up. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that because normally I just make everything myself, so it gets a little tricky sometimes.
Rich: Alright, this is interesting. So first of all, what are the things I hear you saying is first of all you’ve got an editorial calendar. You know what you’re publishing so you don’t have to really worry about it so much so you don’t have to wonder what you’re going to talk about today.
You also mentioned “we” a number of times, you’re saying now that you’ve got other people who are now under this NerdSync umbrella. Do you tell them what they’re going to talk about or do you leave it open for them?
Scott: It really depends. So from the beginning I always wanted NerdSync to be a group of people, not just me, not just “Scott’s channels”. It basically was me for a very long amount of time and then I started very recently to get other people on board. And it started with another YouTuber named Joel who was on the comic book cast, he’s basically in all the comic book channels at this point. He said he had an idea for a show and I said go for it, and he knocks it out of the park each and every time. I don’t have to tell him what to do, he just does it. All I say is we have a slot open for this Friday and can you have a video done by then, and he gets to done really fast.
But with other shows, we have a show called Alter Ego – which is hosted by my friend and editor, DK – that show hardly ever actually airs because we have a really hard time trying to figure out what topics to do and when to post it. So that one’s a bit tricky and we’re still kind of working on that one.
Rich: Now another thing that you do is you go into great depth. I guess there’s two part to this. One is, there’s a lot of YouTube channels about comics, no doubt about it, and they all have their own vibe. But yours is very different, at least that’s what I think, in the fact that you go into the whole psychology behind it. This morning I was checking out the episode on, “Does Bruce Wayne really remember his parents getting murdered?” Now that story has been told a thousand times, but your angle was more about the fallacy of memory, which is completely not what you would expect out of a comic book channel.
So I guess one question I have is, what drew you to talk about this? Was it that you wanted to differentiate yourself, or was it that you were just drawn to this other aspect of comic books that you found fascinating?
Scott: I guess it was a little bit of both. Back in the day with the very first videos I was doing – there’s a big YouTube channel right now called Variant Comics, and he’s a good friend of mine – and I basically was very inspired by him to start NerdSync, I didn’t know there was a market for this comic book stuff. So I basically just copied him from the very beginning. And then as I kept going and I kept making new videos, I realized there’s a lot of really interesting stuff that nobody’s talking about in regards to these comic books. Everyone’s doing the origin of this character or the history of this character or a summary of this storyline, but there’s so much more in depth things that we can talk about.
I think the big part of it is the fact that I don’t really watch other comic book YouTube channels anymore. I’ve made it kind of, well, I don’t want to get inspired by them. I don’t want to see what they’re doing and have it rub off on me. I would much rather watch lots of educational, informative YouTube channels like all the PBS Digital Studios stuff. Those are the ones that I watch and then I basically I say how can I relate this to comic books to teach this about people.
Rich: I love that. I love that and I think it’s awesome because on one hand you differentiated yourself so that people who love comics but who also – for example – love psychology are going to be drawn to your channel. You’re not competing now with other comic book channels.
For our listeners out there, one of the things you want to think about – and I go through this all the time – I think, “do I really have to put together another post on how to grow your email list?” It’s been done a billion times before. But the important thing is what’s your take on it, how do you tell that story in your own voice. I watched a couple of your early videos and I’ve seen that you’ve really kind of come into your own. Your voice is much stronger and you are much more yourself now than you were in those first few videos. I think a lot of our listeners should try the same thing. Not just talk about the same stuff that everybody’s been talking about, but come at it at a different angle.
Scott: Yeah, and a big part of it – because there are lots of comic book YouTube channels out there and of course we’re all going to talk about similar things – and I try to make it a practice that if somebody does a video that I have nothing to add to it, then I’m not going to do that same video. But, if I have something that I can add that I have more information or more another angle or something, then I have no problem saying, “Yeah, this person did this video, but I’m doing my video this way.”
Rich: Right, and I’ve seen you say on air, “I don’t have anything to add to this, but you can go check out this video”, and then you link to it. Or you say, “This is a great video and I want to take another angle on it, I want to build on this person’s content.” And you’re very good – at least from what I can see – of giving credit to those other people who we in the business world might view as our competitors. You’re saying that these guys did a great job and I’m going to add my own 2 cents to it.
Scott: Yeah, it’s weird, I don’t really see anybody as competition in any sense. Maybe that’s just because I feel like I found something that nobody else is really doing. But I feel like as more people start to take up the same space as I am with the educational comic book stuff – and they’re all still my friends, so I don’t see anybody as competition – I just see us all as, hey we can all just sort of riff off each other and see what happens.
Rich: I like that. So one of the things that I see in your videos is the comment section is very vibrant. With the exception of a couple Twitter posts that I did, I get excited if 10 people respond to my video, and you’re getting hundreds of responses for almost every video. You get great engagement from your audience. Are there any specific tactics that you’re using to get people to engage with you by leaving comments or some other methods that they might reach out to you?
Scott: Yeah, there’s a few. So the reason why comments are so important to me as I said, I didn’t really have any friends that liked comic books growing up. So the reason I started this stuff and the reason I continue to do it is so that I can engage in the comments with everybody. So I can say, “here’s the start of a conversation, let me know your thoughts and we can keep talking about it.”
At the end of every video I say, “What do you guys think?” And then I pose a question or two and I’ll let them answer it in the comments and I tell them that I’ll be down in the comments answering all the questions. Right now – because we have hundreds of thousands of subscribers it’s actually impossible for me to respond to every comment, but I used to for a very, very long time. I think up until we had 70,000 subscribers I used to respond to every, single comment on every video, then it got really hard and impossible.
Recently I just reached out to a couple of people on Twitter and I asked if anyone wanted to help me respond to comments. So I have a couple people who are going into the comments every day or every other day and just answering them on my behalf, or linking the questions and the comments to me directly so that I can answer them or I can take a look at them in my time. So they kind of ll of the comments that I need to get to and send me a list of comments that they think I should take a look at, and I’ll go in and comment.
But we also have a weekly comment response show every Monday, it’s called Tales From The Comments, where we basically take a couple comments from the previous video and I’ll try to address them to add more information in or answer a question or just really say, “Hey, this is a really great comment, go check out this comment from a poster.”
Rich: Right. So you’re giving them some real validation by kind of talking about them in either a special video or a video like the kind you mentioned. I also have seen you just flash their comment across the bottom of the screen as well, because people love seeing themselves on TV – or in this case – on YouTube.
So I’m also a big fan of not just digital but live events, and I’m just kind of curious, do you go to comic book conventions? Are you recognized as you walk between the aisles of stacks of comics?
Scott: Sometimes I am, yeah. I don’t go to as many as I would like because I’m the kind of person – I’m an introvert, really – so I really like to sit and watch Netflix and do nothing all day. But occasionally I do go to ComiCons. I went to one – Wizard World in Portland very recently – and I was recognized quite a few times to my surprise. I had a couple of people ask me to sign things, which was very new to me. I was not prepared for that.
Rich: You don’t have 8×10 glossies?
Scott: I do now, I’ve learned my lesson.
Scott: It was really interesting, people had NerdSync t-shirts that they wanted me to sign. Somebody wanted me to sign a flask, that was weird. It’s really interesting and it never gets old. I always think that I’m just a guy that yells about comics on the internet and for some reason people want to meet me.
Rich: It’s awesome. I think people – when it comes to YouTube – it’s a close on the internet as we can get to real life interaction. Like I told you, I’m totally psyched to be interviewing you today. I see you three times a week in my living room so how do I not feel like we have some sort of connection even though you’ve never seen me before.
Scott: It’s a parasocial relationship.
Rich: Absolutely. So when you’re doing your research on some of this content, how are you doing that? Like, you’ll do something on memory or you’ll do something on the space between comic book design – whatever that may be – how much research are you putting into creating this content?
Scott: Oh man, so much research. And again it goes back to the idea that I don’t watch other comic book YouTuber’s. What I do is I surround myself with educational YouTube channels or podcasts or audiobooks, and in my spare time whenever I get a chance I’ll just try to learn anything, and I have an Evernote list of interesting topics that I’ll save for later. And then when I’m thinking of new topics or I’m reading a comic, I’ll find something that relates to that thing I learned the other day and I’ll try to make up a script about it and make a video about it.
The amount of research that goes into every video is overwhelming. I have mini panic attacks every week trying to figure out how we can condense – especially when we’re talking about philosophy – so much into a short video, and they keep getting longer and longer as time goes on. I try to keep them around ten minutes but it’s just so much stuff I have to try to figure out how I’m going to tell what I’m trying to tell. The research is the longest part, it takes days upon days of just research and writing.
Rich: So you’re doing the research and then you’re writing your script. Do you ever do any ad libbing, or is it primarily like you’ve written out every word?
Scott: It’s mostly that I’ve written out every word. It used to be that at the start I used to ad lib, basically. I would just have a bullet point list of the things I need to touch on and just kind of go for it. But as our videos have gotten more intricate, I want to make sure that I’ve gotten my words just right to make sure that I’m conveying the idea correctly and I’m not confusing anybody. Then it transformed into me saying, I have to kind of read this word for word. But there are still points – usually at the end of a long paragraph – where I’ll just leave some space where I can go off the cuff and make a dumb joke or something.
Rich: Right, right. So one of the other things that I’m hearing from you – a couple of the takeaways that I’m getting from our conversation – one is that you often go to other places for ideas. I think sometimes on the internet a lot of people just end up hearing the same things over and over again and it becomes this echo chamber. But you’re actually going to other things outside your specific area, and they you’re finding connections, and I think that’s kind what makes it interesting, at least for me – and maybe that’s because I’ve always liked psychology, too – but it’s kind of neat.
And the other thing is that you’re doing a lot of research. There are a lot of channels out there that are about, “Ten Easter Eggs That You Didn’t Know About The New Daredevil Season 2 Trailer”, or “The Top 5 Times Where Video Games Ended In Ways That Seem Really Stupid”, it’s not like I don’t still watch those, but those don’t take nearly as much research, You’re really spending time researching and polishing your message. And I want to reiterate that for our audience because I think we all sometimes just rush to the idea that we need to create as much content as possible. Google loves content, people love content, just put it out there. Even though you’re creating quite a bit of content, you’re really spending a lot of time on the research and the polishing aspect of your content that you are sharing with the world.
Scott: Yeah. There’s a book that I really like that called, Steal Like An Artist.
Rich: Oh my God, I totally have that book and I’m three quarters of the way through it! Brilliant book.
Scott: Yes! It’s so good. One of the things that he mentions is taking from multiple sources, and that’s how we get ideas. There’s no such thing as an original idea. Everything was inspired by something that came before it. So are you going to just be inspired by the people who are exactly like you and putting out the same messages as you, or are you going to go outside your bubble and find all sorts of different resources and try to blend them together into one more unique message. So that’s kind of the philosophy that I have about that.
Rich: Absolutely. Steal from one person, you’re a thief. Steal from many and you’re an artist. I’ll have a link to that book in the show notes this week, that’s a brilliant book, I love it.
So one question I have is, you’re obviously putting in a lot of work, you’ve probably got a lot of equipment – the lighting and camera work is all great – are you making money at this? I hope that’s not too personal a question, but I’m curious.
Scott: No, that’s fine. My thing is – especially when I was starting – a lot of YouTuber’s and people in this kind of business don’t like to talk about money – and I find that incredibly frustrating – because I need some sort of baseline to know if I’m doing ok or I’m doing poorly. And I don’t have that baseline to know if I should change something or I should keep going, I don’t know. So I have no problems talking about money. I know that a lot of my friends will tell me not to do it, but yeah, I am making a good bit of money. Not a lot, because most of it goes back to my editors who are very talented and have put in a ton of work so that I don’t have to so that I can stick to researching and not having to spend a lot of time on the actual video production side.
Rich: And where are these revenue streams coming from?
Scott: We have a big chunk of it comes from AdSense, which business-wise is not a great thing to have most of your money come from AdSense, because that could change at any moment and it always fluctuates. But we also have sponsors which are set up by my network, DEFY Media, and they do a really good job at bringing brand deals to my attention. So we’ve got people like Audible and all those great YouTube sponsors that everybody has. They’re very generosus and they help support this show in a way that I am very grateful for. Without them, I don’t know if I would be able to afford my editors, quite frankly.
Rich: There you go. And you also had – and I never know how to pronounce it – “patreon”, something like that. That’s like if people happen to love you, they just can donate money to basically pay for your expenses.
Scott: Yeah, and our patreon supporters are the best people in the world. We have a $5 reward where we all get together once a month and just kind of talk about a specific comic book or some news or just chat for a bit and it’s never not great, it’s always fun. I love hanging out with those guys.
Rich: Cool. If you could go back in time – which is probably it’s own episode right there – but if you could go back in time and talk to an earlier version of you right before you recorded your first episode, what sage advice would you give to that younger you?
Scott: Oh man, there’s one big piece of advice that today I’m struggling with because I didn’t do it way back in the day. I should have had multiple episodes ready to go. To this day, I’m still going week by week with my episodes. It makes it incredibly hard to deal with because of all the research that goes into it. So having multiple episodes ready to go before you post your first one. If we post once a week, I should really have 4 weeks worth of videos ready to go. Have stuff in the can ready to go so I’m not working week to week, because that is still something that make sit very difficult.
Rich: I can totally concur with that. I call it “living hand to mouth” with my podcast. Right now I’m actually going to have 2 or 3 ready to go for next week, but last week I almost missed an episode because I just had 2 people that had to reschedule. So I completely agree, especially if you’re relying on other people – which so many of us are – get a critical mass which you can always have in case you get sick or business happens, life happens, whatever.
Scott: Yeah. I mean for us it’s always technical difficulties. We missed yesterday’s video because my editor’s internet went down so he couldn’t upload the video. So if we had planned out and at least had a little bit more time on our hands, then that wouldn’t have been an issue, but we had to miss it, it was so sad.
Rich: There you go. Listen, I never do lightning rounds because they’re way overdone, but for some reason you just felt like a different type of guest. So I’ve got a lightning round for you just before we wrap up today. I’m going to throw something at you, you just give me the quick response. Ready?
Scott: I’m so ready, let’s do this.
Rich: Invisibility or flight?
Scott: Gotta go flight.
Rich: Marvel or DC?
Rich: *gasps loudly in shock*
Scott: I know, but it’s…
Rich: No, it’s lightning round, it’s what you feel. I’m editing that part out. Magneto – mostly good or mostly bad?
Scott: Mostly good.
Rich: Alan Moore or Grant Morrison?
Scott: Alan Moore.
Rich: What super villain deserves his or her own movie?
Scott: Dr. Doom.
Rich: Good one. Alright, that’s it for lightning round. Scott, I want to thank you so much, this has been probably my most favorite episode I’ve ever recorded. Where can people find you online?
Scott: You can find me on this podcast.
Rich: And that’s it!
Scott: You can find me on the NerdSync YouTube channel, we post 3 videos a week – on good weeks – and you can also find me on Twitter @scottniswander, there’s also a NerdSync Twitter which you can also do as well.
Rich: Alright, that’s awesome stuff. And of course as always we will have links in there in case you can’t spell “Niswander”. Scott, once again, thank you very much for coming on and sharing your experience with us.
Scott: Yeah, thank you so much for having me, this was awesome.
- You can find out more about Scott and his work at his YouTube channel and follow him on Twitter.
- Scott and Rich both enthusiastically recommended reading the book, Steal Like An Artist.
- When he’s not busy pretending he’s Spiderman in another life, Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design and marketing firm in Portland, ME. He is also the founder and brains behind the Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference.