Decision Vision Episode 100: Should I Start a Podcast? – An Interview with David Sparks, Sparky Media
“Should I start a podcast?” is a great question to be asked of someone who publishes not just one, but three different shows. David Sparks of Sparky Media joins host Mike Blake to discuss the “whys” behind his podcasts, how he balances his law practice with his podcast activity, and much more. “Decision Vision” is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
David Sparks is a nerd who podcasts about getting more out of your Apple Technology, Automating your life, and getting more focused. David also publishes MacSparky.com where he writes about finding the best tools, hardware, and workflows for using Apple products to get work done. David’s favorite thing to do is build the MacSparky Field Guides. When not doing all that stuff, David practices a bit of law.
Mike Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is the host of the “Decision Vision” podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms, and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth-minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
“Decision Vision” is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision-maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at email@example.com and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the “Decision Vision” podcast.
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Intro: [00:00:01] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions. Brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional, full service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Mike Blake: [00:00:21] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic from the business owners’ or executives’ perspective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.
Mike Blake: [00:00:41] My name is Mike Blake, and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a director at Brady Ware & Company, a full service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast, which is being recorded in Atlanta per social distancing protocols. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast aggregator and please consider leaving a review of the podcast as well.
Mike Blake: [00:01:07] So, today is a bellwether show. Today, we are recording show number 100, and I can’t believe that we’ve gotten this far. But we’ve had some fascinating conversations, some wonderful guests. And, frankly, I’ve learned so much, not just about the topics, but about the guests too. Some of these guests are people that I’ve known for a long time, but I’ve never quite had these same kinds of conversations as we’ve had with the podcast. And based on the listener support, it sounds like you guys seem to think that this is useful, too, and that’s very gratifying.
Mike Blake: [00:01:43] So, you know, given that most podcasts don’t make it past episode six or seven, and the last podcast I did, Startup Lounge, made it to, I think, 42 or 43, I don’t mind telling you that I’m really proud of reaching this milestone. And I’m so thankful, as I’ve said many times but it never gets old, to you, the listeners, for supporting this; and and for my firm, Brady Ware, for supporting this; and, you know, the team we have with John Ray at Business RadioX and our marketing team; and the guests who’ve been wanting to come on and be very open, be very vulnerable, be very frank. I’m sort of the lead guy on this, but it’s very much a team effort, and I can’t thank you enough.
Mike Blake: [00:02:29] So, my present, if you will, to you, is, I think, a really fascinating topic and a very intriguing guest. So, today’s topic is, Should I have a podcast? And I think this is pretty apropos because I’m asked a lot like, “Why do you do the podcast? It seems like it’s a lot of work. And I’m glad you do it. We enjoy it. But why do you do it? What do you get out of it?” And, you know, being in the professional services world, I’m asked a lot – I’m asked frequently, you know, do you get business out of it? And that’s a very complicated question.
Mike Blake: [00:03:07] I can answer very directly. You know, do I put out a podcast and then I receive five emails from people that need a business appraisal? The answer is no. On the other hand, does putting out knowledge and contributing something, contributing a different voice to the internet and to the podcasting sphere, does that create brand? Does that create a way for people who’ve heard about me or about the firm from some other place to then sort of check us out and see, literally, if they like what they hear? I do think that that has an impact. But I don’t think you should believe me or take my word for it necessarily.
Mike Blake: [00:03:46] We have a very special guest that I’ve been looking forward to this podcast I don’t think like any other. And that podcast is David Sparks, who I “know him” from the Mac Power Users podcast. And I’m going to talk about my relationship with that in a minute because it sort of sets a table. About five or six years ago, I went into becoming a sole practitioner. I did the same thing I think David did, you know, decided, “Look, I’m not going to work in an institution anymore.” And I spent most of my professional life in the IBM PC world. But what had happened about two days after I hung up my sole proprietor shingle, every computer in our house just decided it was just going to stop working.
Mike Blake: [00:04:36] And here I am. I’m on my own. I’m stressed out. I have clients. I’m trying to build a company. I’m building a website. You know, every day a new page is being built. And all of a sudden, I’m having to do tech support on my wife’s computer and my two sons computers, and even mine was acting up. And so, what I did that day or the next day is, I backed everything up that I could. I took all those computers away and we went to the Apple store and we replaced every single device, except our phones, but every single computer with an Apple Mac. And I had not been a Mac user since college. Having moved into finance, Mac and finance don’t work all that well together. And so, we sort of nudged over into the PC area. But that had cost me so much time and so much in terms of nervous mental energy that I just didn’t know – you know, it just was unsustainable. But I remember no machine is perfect, but Macs just simply worked. And you just didn’t have to worry about that stuff. And so, we migrated over to Macs. But the last Mac operating system I had used, I think was System 7, it might have been System 8.
Mike Blake: [00:05:51] And so, you know, how am I gonna learn how to do all this? And I happened upon the Mac Power Users podcast. And back then, they’re in the 300s of episodes. And, you know, listening to that podcast was helpful, not just because they really were excellent in getting me up to speed in how to use a Mac and integrate it into business. But it’s also a sneaky, good business podcast for the sole practitioner. You know, David is a sole practitioner. I think at the time his co-host, Katie Floyd, was also a sole practitioner. And they talked about the things that were sort of day-to-day in my life that I was addressing. It happened to be with the technology platform that I had just converted to.
Mike Blake: [00:06:36] And so, you know, they became sort of my informal mentors. And I frankly do not think that my business would have been as successful as it had been and that transition would haven’t been as successful as it had been had I not had access to that podcast. So, you know, when I decided I want to do a podcast about podcasts, there’s really only one person I wanted to get on the show. And I’m so glad that David agreed to come on and talk to us. So, that’s my background of why I wanted David on.
Mike Blake: [00:07:12] Let me introduce him, because he’s really a fascinating guy. You know, he’s an Orange County, California business attorney and considers himself a geek. I think he wears that badge with honor. He’s a podcaster – as we will talk about – blogger and author who writes about finding the best tools, hardware, and workflows for using Apple products to get work done. He writes for Macworld magazine and speaks about technology. David has been a business litigation and non-litigation attorney for 27 years, his firm’s name is Sparks Law. And is as comfortable working with multi-million dollar firms as he is with a few guys and a laptop – that’s California for you.
Mike Blake: [00:07:49] One of the superpowers is using technology to secure the best outcomes for his clients. David helps clients negotiate and document agreements, catch and solve little problems before they become big problems, and generally helps his clients succeed. As I mentioned, David is also a co-host of the Mac Power Users podcast. He also is co-host of the podcast called Focused and also, I think, Automators. He publishes a business daily blog at macsparky.com. David has also published and continues to publish Apple device specific field guide and a gift wrapping field guide as well. That has also saved my bacon because I’m dreadful at that. And this year, I believe, David has launched a YouTube channel. David Sparks, thank you for coming on the program and welcome.
David Sparks: [00:08:33] Thanks. It’s my pleasure to be here. Congratulations on Episode 100. That is no easy feat.
Mike Blake: [00:08:40] Well, thank you. As I mentioned, it’s a team effort. But we’ve got a way to go to catch up to you guys. You’re on what, 569, something like that?
David Sparks: [00:08:48] Yeah. We’re recording that today. You know, I’ve obviously lost track. I think we’re recording 570 something today. So, yeah, we’re up there.
Mike Blake: [00:09:00] And hopefully, we’ll never catch up because that means you’ll never stop.
David Sparks: [00:09:02] Yeah. It’s fun. I mean, I think that’s one of the reasons why you get to Episode 100 is you enjoy the process and you feel like you’re making a difference. So, you know, it’s easy to keep going once you get that momentum rolling, just like anything in life, right?
Mike Blake: [00:09:18] I think that is right. After a while, rather than the podcast being seen as something that you have to do, it’s something that’s just sort of baked into your DNA. And if you’re not doing it, at least my body and my head sort of says, “Well, where is it?”
David Sparks: [00:09:34] Yeah. Like, if you take a week or two off through the holidays, maybe you get ahead or whatever, and you feel itchy for it, then you know that it’s got you.
Mike Blake: [00:09:44] Yeah. I think that’s right. I think that’s right. So, David, you know, I sort of see you as a Mac guru. You have so many identities when you go through these and I think that’s a fascinating story. But I want to ask – and I know this because I listen to the podcast, but the listeners maybe don’t – you know, what Apple devices are you using on a daily basis? And have you upgraded to Mac silicon yet?
David Sparks: [00:10:07] Yeah. Of course, I got one of the very first Silicon Macs. It’s an amazing laptop. I actually am trying to, like, scale back my talk about this computer because I just can’t get over how good it is. It’s really fun when you are a fan of technology when you see something revolutionary happen. Because so much of technology is evolutionary. But what Apple did was just with one move they doubled the battery life and tripled the power of a laptop. And it’s just amazing, right? And the bar has been reset. So, it’s very exciting. And they’re going to be, you know, expanding that Apple silicon to other devices over the next year. So, lots to look forward to if you’re a geek right now.
Mike Blake: [00:10:56] And, you know, it doesn’t hurt, there’s lots of content for the podcast.
David Sparks: [00:11:00] Yeah. That, too. I mean, it is crazy. And, you know, people have been talking about this and whispering about the idea that Apple would take the Intel chips out for years now. And one of the things I like about Apple – and there’s plenty of things I don’t like about Apple, too, but one that I do like about it is, they’re a very deliberate company and you can tell that they have literally years of work into this transition. But then, one day they say, “Hey, here it is.” And wow, I mean, it is something else.
David Sparks: [00:11:33] Like, I am recording right now on an Apple Silicon Mac with this podcast, and I don’t have the power plugged in. I’ve been making podcasts for over ten years, this is the first time I’ve ever done it without the power plugged in. And I have no fear of losing battery throughout this recording unless we talk for ten hours.
Mike Blake: [00:11:57] Well, we won’t. I would but you shouldn’t. And I know that you have another podcast. But I do have to ask this, this is one quick follow up before I get to the podcast part, you know, I know you’ve loved your your iMac Pro. Is that going to get relegated? Or in your world, is there a role for both – you know, did you get the MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro?
David Sparks: [00:12:22] I have a MacBook Pro and, as you mentioned earlier, I have an iMac Pro as well. So, my computer set up, I’m a two computer person. I have a big one on my desk with a big 27 inch screen and I have the laptop. I normally would be actually doing this recording on the iMac Pro, but the pandemic has brought my kids home from school and you know, I live in California, so our houses are small. And so, I have to do the laptop in a bedroom of the house now for podcast recording. But to answer your question, I use the iMac Pro way more than my laptop because, you know, the 27 inch screen is a complete game changer. You know, I can have a Microsoft Word document and a web browser and two or three things on the screen at once. And I like a big window into my computer.
Mike Blake: [00:13:17] So, now switching gears, you know, the thing about – you know, I’ve listened to your podcast, as you know, for a long time. I listen to Focused as well. But one of the things I enjoy about doing this podcast, even with people I know, I do some homework before the podcast and I learn about the guests. And even with people that I’ve known for years, I learn something new that I did not know about them. And in your case, I mean, you do a lot of things, do you have a day job? I mean, is there one thing that you describe as your day job? Or how would you describe kind of what you do?
David Sparks: [00:13:52] It’s kind of weird. And you were talking earlier about how, you know, the transition of making podcast turns into getting clients for your day job. And I could tell you stories about that. It does work, but it’s a very indirect route. But, you know, I started out a lawyer who just had an itch to scratch about being a nerd. I never really thought of this as an alternate career. And then, I just started writing and that turned into book deals. And that turned into podcasts and all sorts of things. But I have really kind of balanced them out. I mean, I spend, probably, about – you know, it’s in the 50-50 range. But some weeks, you know, the balance lies between one or the other being a lawyer and being MacSparky.
David Sparks: [00:14:40] But it really is probably a bad idea to do two things. I mean, when you think about it, you know, how do you manage two very different careers at the same time? But I also put very specific boundaries around them. You know, there are things from MacSparky that I turned down because I know I just don’t have the time for it. And there are things as a lawyer. Like, I was a litigation attorney for 20 or so years, you know, I went to court, shined my shoes, made my case. And I got to a point where I realized that is just not what I wanted to do anymore. I mean, there’s so much negativity in the litigation process. And there were so many cases that I would win. And then, the other side would declare bankruptcy or flee the country or something. And I felt like I wasn’t helping solve the problem.
David Sparks: [00:15:32] And at the same time, I was developing my law practice into what I call Preventative Law, where I’ve got all these, you know, small to medium sized companies I represent. And I spent a lot of my time helping them try to write their contracts in ways that they don’t get sued and avoid trouble. But the downside is, for a lawyer at least, litigation is like a bonfire of $100 bills. You make so much more money when you represent somebody in litigation. So, I just refused. I decided to give up the most lucrative part of my business.
Mike Blake: [00:16:12] Well, for what it’s worth, I’m right there with you. You know, my nominal day job is in business appraisal, and you’ve probably used expert witnesses like me. And I stopped doing that about three years ago for a lot of reasons. But one of them also was, you know, I’m not sure as an expert, I was ever solving a problem. You know, you’re trying to win a case. And it’s also one of the most lucrative gigs that you can get in my world. But, you know, it doesn’t really just sort of – and I don’t – how am I going to say this? I don’t look down on people that do this for a living. It’s a necessary part of the legal system. But, you know, it’s not just for me. And, you know, it’s also a grind out. Imagine if you’re still in litigation because the nature of the cadence of the way that works, that would be very difficult to maintain one podcast, let alone multiple podcasts and e-books and everything else that you do, too, right?
David Sparks: [00:17:14] Sure. Yeah. I mean, the thing that really ended litigation for me was a case I was working. I have a lot of knowledge with trade secret law. In California, that’s a big deal. And I had a trade secret case and I was deposing the other side and he started to perjure himself. And then, now that he perjure himself, the lawyer – this young dumb lawyer – went on the record and perjured himself as well. Lawyers shouldn’t give testimony, but this guy, he was young and he didn’t know any better. And I walked out of that room. And when I was a younger man, I would have been celebratory, like, “Great.” You know, as soon as someone perjures himself, you’re going to destroy him at trial. It’s a foregone conclusion. Because you can prove lies, believe it or not.
David Sparks: [00:18:02] But instead of feeling victorious, I just felt empty, you know? And then, I realized, “Oh, you know what? I don’t have what it takes anymore for this game.” Because this stuff just makes me sad. It doesn’t make me happy. And I started shutting down the litigation practice. And, of course, it took a year or so because I had to finish the cases I was in. But once I was done – and it’s been great because although I did take a pay cut, the work I’m doing, I feel very enriched for. Whereas, at one point I was wondering, “Am I going to have to get out of law?” To, now, I feel like I could be a lawyer for the duration doing the stuff I’m doing that I really enjoy.
Mike Blake: [00:18:41] So, think back to when you started the Mac Power Users podcast, it’s got to be over a decade now, what were yours and Katie’s goals when you launched it? What did you try to do?
David Sparks: [00:18:54] Well, you know, podcasting is an interesting thing. To get into podcasting, you have to really love the subject that you’re getting into. I get emails from people saying, “Well, I want to start a podcast and, you know, make a bunch of money on it.” And I just laugh. I mean, it’s not. Go get a job at McDonald’s if you want to make money, because you probably more likely to make money there than making a podcast. But it has to be something you’re passionate about.
David Sparks: [00:19:19] And Katie and I were friends, and we wanted to make a podcast related to Apple. And we spent six months figuring out the concept for the show because I did not want to make one more Apple podcast. I mean, there’s a bunch of them out there. Most of them are, like, what’s the next iPhone going to look like kind of podcast, where they look at the news and rumors and they pontificate about them for an hour and then they leave. And a few days later, the content is useless. And the idea of talking news and rumors to me is like, you know, “What’s the point?” So, I didn’t want to make a show unless I thought we could bring something to the table. And at the time, friends of ours who had successful Apple podcast are telling us, you know, “You’re too late. You shouldn’t do it anyway. There’s already so many. What’s the point? It’s crazy.”
David Sparks: [00:20:10] But I thought, well, if we had a different angle, if we could come to something. And then, I asked myself, “Well, what is the podcast that I would like to listen to that doesn’t exist now?” And that’s how I came up with the concept of Mac Power Users. And Mac Power Users is a show that takes on topics like, you know, we’ll spend two hours talking about how to get better at email or we’ll have a guest in that scores movies and find out what they use or technology, how they make a movie with their, you know, musical score. So, we try to find people who solve interesting problems or talk about solving problems with your technology. And Katie, my co-host at the time, said, “That’s a great idea. There’s only, like, ten shows and we’ll run out of content.” And, now, we’re on 570. So, it’s all good.
David Sparks: [00:20:55] But I do think the trick is finding something you’re passionate about, maybe bringing a different voice or different idea to the table if you really want to, you know, make a podcast that’s going to make a difference.
Mike Blake: [00:21:08] So, one of the challenges we have on our show – and I think this is a common challenge. But I may learn something here, which is great – is, you know, we struggle with tracking our audience engagement. How do we know how many people are actually listening? And, you know, are we making an impact other than the emails we get and so forth? First of all, do you track it? Do you bother? And if so, how do you go about tracking it?
David Sparks: [00:21:34] Kind of. I mean, it’s got a lot better. When we first started, the way Apple would distribute the podcasts would be, they’d break the audio file up into segments. Like, for one podcast, people would have four downloads. And then, if you saw the download numbers, they’d be off because there would be four downloads and there’s just one. Well, now we’ve figured out ways to actually track how many people are downloading in terms of, like, audience engagement. Like, do you know how many people skip ads? Or how many people stop halfway through? We don’t know. And, honestly, I think that’s a feature, not a bug. I don’t want to get real creepy with my audience about, you know, how much they’re listening to. I do know that people listen. That it helps people. I hear it from them all the time.
David Sparks: [00:22:21] Like, what you said today earlier just made my day. I just love hearing that something we did helped you through a tough spot. But, you know, the problem that happened on the Internet is the tracking bugs and pixels and all the things that people have done to get creepy about what people are doing on the Internet, that hasn’t made its way to podcasts. Podcast is built on RSS, which is a very open standard framework. And it doesn’t lend itself to those kinds of things. In the industry, I think, as podcasters need to kind of stick to that and not let advertisers and, you know, people that are doing analytics come in and try and do all sorts of weird things to our audience. So, we’ve actually kind of really stood strong against that. When advertisers ask us to do stuff like that, we tell them, “Thanks, but no thanks. We’ll get another advertiser.”
Mike Blake: [00:23:15] Yeah. And I think that sort of speaks to the goal, right? Your goal is not to turn this – and it doesn’t sound like your goal is to turn this into a marketing tool for David Sparks and Katie Floyd, now, your current co-host, Stephen. But it’s really about sort of helping people. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s about helping people and bringing a voice first. And then, if there’s collateral benefits along the way, great.
David Sparks: [00:23:40] Yeah. And I think if you do a good job of it, if you keep your focus there, there will be collateral benefits. I mean, you mentioned earlier, I make the MacSparky Field Guides, I feel like they’re good field guides and a lot of people buy them for the content. But I know some people just buy them because they like listening to the show every week and they want to help me out.
David Sparks: [00:24:02] When I went out on my own – I was with a firm for a long time. When I went out on my own, a bunch of people approached me about being their lawyer and I had to turn most of them down. I’m only licensed in California, you know. But a couple of them made sense as clients and turned into clients. I mean, I had a New York Times bestselling author hire me as her attorney. And she said, “You’re the lawyer that’s been in my ear for ten years once a week, and I trust you. And I don’t trust my existing lawyer.” And that kind of stuff, you know, pays dividends. So, those things come naturally. You don’t need to force them or do something harmful to your audience to get them.
Mike Blake: [00:24:43] So, when you and Katie set out to publish this podcast, can you talk about kind of what the key to-do list items were to get from idea and actual publication? And maybe this is an unfair question, but if you had to do it over today, what might that look like differently? Because at a minimum, the technology has changed. So, I have to imagine some of the steps might change today.
David Sparks: [00:25:10] I mean, the show Mac Power Users is a preparation intensive show. You know, I was talking earlier about new shows, those shows you just get on and you read the news and you talk about it. But with Mac Power Users, we’re going to give you a tutorial on email. We need to be up to speed on the latest apps and technology. So, we have a whole planning process. So, once we decide on a show, it could be months before we actually record it. And we have an outline we share and we, you know, trade ideas back and forth. And, you know, it just kind of evolves. Sometimes they come together quickly and sometimes it’s a little harder growing. But, you know, a lot of the work gets done before we even sit down at the microphones.
Mike Blake: [00:25:54] And I think that’s an important point that I want to sort of highlight to our audience is that, you know, I see a lot of podcasts or hear a lot of podcasts where it’s obvious there’s not a whole lot of preparation, and you can tell. You can tell when people are prepared and they’re not prepared. And look, there’s some people that can turn on a microphone, record a show entirely extemporaneously, and they can pull it off. Now, most of those people wind up working in professional radio or something. But for the rest of us mere mortals, at least, I can say for myself, for every hour show I record, there’s probably, about, five hours of prep – maybe three or four hours of prep. And with you as well, you know, every show you’ve got to become an expert because if you have a guest, you have to engage with your guests at an expert level. You don’t even ask the right questions.
David Sparks: [00:26:54] Yeah. Yeah. But that’s the fun part, I mean, for me. And if it is for you, then you’re doing the right thing.
Mike Blake: [00:27:02] Now, why did you decide that you’re going to do an interview show? You know, you could have done a show or just sort of you and Katie or Stephen talking. But you decided you’re going to have a guest in the show each week, which does make the show, frankly, a bit more complex. Why did you decide to go that route?
David Sparks: [00:27:20] The first year or so Katie and I did it, it was just the two of us. And I felt like the audience was getting to know our opinions really well. But we don’t have the only opinions on the planet. And I wanted to bring in outside people who were doing interesting things. I mean, when someone is a guest on a Mac Power Users workflow show, there’s really two fundamental questions, it’s what interesting thing do you do with your technology and how do you do it. And it’s not every week. Usually, we try to do it every other week. But sometimes, you know, we’ll do two or three in a row and sometimes we’ll go two or three weeks without doing one.
David Sparks: [00:28:03] But we find interesting people. Like, we just interviewed Austin Mann, who’s the guy Apple gives him their iPhones early. You know, he gets the pre-release iPhones. And he is an amazing travel photographer. And he took some of the iPhone cameras and he hiked up the narrows in Utah and took amazing pictures and showed what you can do with that camera. So, I wanted to get him on the show, but we talked about what he did with the Utah trip. But we also tried to turn that into, “Hey, if you’ve got an iPhone, how do you take a better picture?”
David Sparks: [00:28:40] So, you know, you just kind of figure out what the angle is. So, that show turned into a photo tutorial as much as it did an interview. And so, we do try to bring in people that have additional expertise or just a different look on things. Because I feel like every show, you can bring something that someone can get. I mean, my goal for the Mac Power Users – and, frankly, every podcast they make – is that, number one, high signal to noise. That if you listen, we goof off a little bit on microphone once in a while. That’s kind of fun. But we also really want you to get good content. And the second big request, for me, is that, every listener learn at least one thing useful in every show. And you never know what it’ll be. But if you do it right, hopefully they get something out of it.
Mike Blake: [00:29:32] Do you ever struggle to come up with topics? Do you ever find yourself, “Geez, what do we -” and I guess you guys are planning the shows out a long way in advance. But do you ever struggle for topics? Or do you find that just the subject matter so easily lends itself well to topics that it’s really more of a matter of just how to do the topic justice?
David Sparks: [00:29:53] It really it’s that latter, not the former. You know, one of the great things – you know, when we made the show, we called it Mac Power Users because Apple made Macs. But now they also make iPhones and iPads. And if you read the news, maybe cars. I mean, I don’t know. So, Apple comes up with all this new technologies, and that is just this constant source of material for the show. And then, the underlying technologies are changing. I talked about the email show earlier. We done three or four of them over the ten year run of the show because every few years technologies change a lot. And, you know, people are trying to make it better. And we want to bring the audience up to the latest and greatest. So, some topics we go back to once in a while. Some things kind of come out of nowhere. But we really never have a problem finding topics.
Mike Blake: [00:30:47] So, what do you find is the most challenging part about maintaining the podcast?
David Sparks: [00:30:55] I think the advice I give to anybody who wants to get into a podcast is, you absolutely have to bring consistency to the audience. If you make a podcast and you record and release one every blue moon, you’re never going to hold on to an audience, because they want consistency. Like, Mac Power Users drops every Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Pacific. And if you’re a listener and you know you’re going to have it in your car on Monday morning – I guess not as many people driving right now with the pandemic, but either way, you know that Monday morning when you do whatever you do that there’ll be a new episode of Mac Power Users there for you.
David Sparks: [00:31:37] And I think if you want to get into this racket, you need to really make a promise with your audience that you can keep. Now, maybe that means you just release once a month or once every two weeks, but be clear and stick to your schedule. And that’s the hard part because, you know, things happen in life and you get busy, like me and like you, too. I mean, you have other career that sometimes takes priority. But, you know, you still got to make time and do it.
Mike Blake: [00:32:08] Yeah. I think that’s right. Getting into the rhythm of just committing to be there. And I underestimated how important this was. And our producer, John, has been really helpful in terms of educating me on how important that is. But, you know, as I had podcasts, I listen to more podcasts, and I probably should even admit, let alone do. But, you know, I do look, before I add that podcast. Before I’m going to invest in this, are they still active? Do they publish regularly? Or is it just every once in a while when they feel like it? Because then I feel like I’m kind of setting myself up for disappointment. And there are enough opportunities to be disappointed in life that I don’t need to make a podcast subscription a contributor to that.
David Sparks: [00:32:56] Amen.
Mike Blake: [00:32:59] So, you’ve since added a second podcast, Focused. I did not know this until I did research, the third, Automators. What motivated you to add yet more podcasts? I think that starts to get you in a rarefied air that you’re able to maintain and publish three high quality podcasts on a weekly basis.
David Sparks: [00:33:21] Yeah. Well, the other two are not on a weekly basis, because I was very deliberate with those that they would be once every two weeks. So, the way I manage the production is that, every week I’m working on two podcasts, Mac Power Users and one other. And then, that is a schedule I can live up to. And the other two are just opportunities where there were – one of the things I tell people, “Make a podcast if there’s something that you have to absolutely get off your chest.” And in both of those cases, there were topics. Like, Automators is just a level deeper than Mac Power Users in terms of automation scales and stuff that really doesn’t fit into Mac Power Users’ outline. And then, Focused is, you know, I also have the productivity bug, you know, how do you be more productive? And I feel like, you know, productivity really is the wrong word. I feel like right now, in this day and age, the real super power is the ability to focus on one thing. Because we’ve got all these digital things that want to reach out to us, you know, Facebook and Instagram and all of these things that can grab your attention. And I think there’s a real crisis for people trying to hold on to their focus. And so, that was something I had to get out of my system so we make a show talking about that.
Mike Blake: [00:34:50] And, you know, to me, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I mean, on the surface, they seem like three podcasts, but there is a common thread. I mean, with all due respect, I know you don’t like the term productivity, but I do see them as different dimensions of, frankly, business productivity. One happens to be through technology. Another happens to be through process. Another happens through mindset. But that really is sort of the core competency, isn’t it? And probably it’s fair to say, I mean, that’s how you’re able to do all this. I mean, you do a lot and your family hasn’t thrown you out. I mean, by the way you described it, you seem to have a great family life as well. You’ve achieved a certain level of that elusive “work-life balance” – if there is such a thing to which many of us strive. And I’ll be willing to bet you that productivity, that’s a secret weapon.
David Sparks: [00:35:49] Yeah. Yeah. And just like getting focused and thinking about, you know, what is really important to you. I think it’s really easy if anybody sits down – one of the best exercises you can do is sit down and log everything you do over the course of a week or a month. And just look at it at the end and look at how much of it is just utter B.S. You know, how many dumb meetings did you go to? People find that there is a lot of extra time being wasted. And, you know, none of us are getting out of this alive. You know, we have a short amount of time here to do something. So, you know, I decided a while ago that I’m just done with that. If something isn’t really moving the ball forward for me, I’m just not going to do it. And it’s not that I’m super productive, it’s just that I’m super discriminating about where I spend my time.
Mike Blake: [00:36:43] You know, as a slight tangent, but I feel like it bears relevance here, one thing that’s taught me about when you really sit down and think about how much time in our lives is just sort of empty calories, if you will, is in homeschooling. We started homeschooling my youngest son, who’s almost ten, because just in our county in Georgia, they just have not executed hybrid schooling very well. And we just don’t want to put our kid inside a classroom right now and we start homeschooling. You realize just how much time in a school day is wasted, you know, I guess, settling in between classes and having to go as quickly as the slowest learner in the class, et cetera, et cetera. And it’s not that my son’s a genius. We don’t think that. But it’s just through squeezing all that out, we get through easily a very rigorous school day in about three hours. And then, we’re kind of like, “Well, now what do we do with them?” So, it sounds like you found that as well kind of another aspect of your life. And that, you know, technology, focus, and automation has helped you kind of maximize that.
David Sparks: [00:37:59] Yeah. You know, to the best of my ability. And honestly, I fail at this stuff just as much as everybody else. I mean, if you listen to the Focused podcast, we apologize, like, every episode, because so many of these productivity, you know, I’ve got “gurus,” they’re just full of crap. I mean, so much of this stuff is hard and we all make all these mistakes. And, you know, I think we all just need to acknowledge we’re humans and we’re all doing our best under difficult circumstances. Sometimes extremely difficult circumstances right now. But if you just try and bring some intentionality to the board, maybe you can get a little better at this stuff and that might make a difference.
Mike Blake: [00:38:40] So, you know, around your podcasts, you’ve managed to build some community around that. And I’m curious, did the community arise because you had a conscious effort to build it? Or did it just sort of arise organically where you just have all these raving fans and they just love you and they love the show and there’s a community that just sort of built around that organically?
David Sparks: [00:39:05] Yeah. It’s a little bit of both. I mean, we started with Mac Power Users with a Facebook Group. But I am not comfortable with a lot of the things Facebook does. And it was a really big Facebook Group. But I felt like we were doing a disservice to our audience. It kind of gets back to the whole thing, you know, they’re being monetized by Facebook and they’re being tracked by Facebook. And it never sat right with me.
David Sparks: [00:39:33] So, several years ago, I started researching it and we decided that there was a technology called Discord, which is an open source, old school forum, you know, technology. And I decided we’re just going to move the whole thing there and we’re going to shut down the Facebook. And everybody told me it was a mistake and that we’re going to lose audience members and everybody is going to be angry with me. And, honestly, within, like, six months of doing it, the Discord forum has doubled the size of the Facebook group and everybody’s happy. And it’s being tracked.
David Sparks: [00:40:09] The most delightful thing for me is when I search a problem I’m having on my Mac and I find the answer in he Mac Power Users forum, sometimes written by me, which is kind of sad, you know. So, there’s this big community. I actually don’t engage with it enough. I get in the forum and participate a little bit, but I’m pretty busy with the stuff I’m doing. And I think one of my big regrets is not engaging with the audience at the forum level more often. But it’s hard, you know, I mean, I got to keep making shows.
Mike Blake: [00:40:41] Well, you know, I mean, you can’t do everything. And it sounds like one skill, if not mastered, at least you’ve certainly grasped, is the need to say no. Every time you say yes to one thing, you’re saying no to something else. And, clearly, the forum has not suffered. I will say this, before I look for tech support or even Apple’s website, I go to the forum. I’m much more likely to find existing answer or someone is going to answer my question within 30 minutes.
David Sparks: [00:41:13] Yeah. And we have an amazing audience. I mean, at Mac Power Users, I can’t believe some of those people listen to us because so many of them are smarter than me.
Mike Blake: [00:41:25] Well, you know, sometimes it’s not even about being smarter. You know, you used the term I really like, which is voice. And sometimes the voice makes all the difference. And I like your stories where you talk about people trying to discourage you from doing another podcast because people felt that there was no room. But, you know, I encourage people who want to do a podcast or a blog, I think everybody has a unique voice that they can share with the world. And until we start cloning, that’s just not going to change.
David Sparks: [00:42:02] And even then, the clones aren’t going to be cooperative. Just wait and see.
Mike Blake: [00:42:05] Well, if science fiction has taught us anything, right? That’s going to be dangerous. Now, coronavirus seems to be motivating a lot of podcast launches. I don’t know if that’s because of boredom or desperation because you can’t get out and do the conventional networking that a lot of people used to like to do. Do you have any general pieces of advice for people that are thinking about taking the plunge and starting a podcast? Other than you already talked about making a commitment to consistency. And we talked about, also, you know, thinking about what it is unique that you can bring to the table. Are there any other pieces of advice that you could give to people that may be thinking about this and help them understand if whether committing to a podcast is a good decision for them or not?
David Sparks: [00:42:58] Well, I think, like I said, come up with a concept and commit to it. But I think the other mistake a lot of people make is, they run out and they buy a lot of equipment they don’t need. If you’re starting a new podcast, there are articles out there that will tell you what gear to buy. And don’t start with the most expensive stuff. For many years at the beginning of Mac Power Users, I made it on a $200 USB microphone and a pair of headphones I bought at Target, and it was just fine. And I’ve upgraded the equipment, you know, gradually over the years because I got more invested in it and I wanted to kind of up the game. But getting into the equipment early is like the guy who buys the $400 running shoes before he’s actually gone out and started running. And you don’t want to do that.
David Sparks: [00:43:49] So, take your time. Get your idea together. Get a basic set of equipment, but get some equipment. I guess the flip side of this, don’t just talk into your internal microphone. Because there are plenty of people with good ideas that won’t get enough equipment to make a listenable podcast. But the great thing is, these days, there’s so many resources on the Internet that can help you. So, it’s just not that difficult. I mean, you can do it.
Mike Blake: [00:44:20] Yeah. I mean, you know, from my own home studio, this Blue Yeti microphone was $90 on sale. And, you know, it does the job. It is fun to go out and buy all that stuff, but then it can be kind of daunting. And by the way, too, if you buy all that complicated stuff, you got to figure how to set it up. And, you know, if you never worked with a mixing board before or something or an audio interface, all of a sudden, that stuff may never get used.
David Sparks: [00:44:52] And I just updated my microphone interface, literally, just like in the last two weeks and I still haven’t figured out how to get audio out of it. So, I’ve got my headphones plugged into my Mac right now because I got to set aside an hour to figure out those things. That’s not the stuff you want to be doing when you first start making a podcast.
Mike Blake: [00:45:13] Yeah. I mean, you want to create less friction for yourself, not more. But building upon that, actually, do you guys do your own publishing and editing or do you farm that out? And that’s preamble to a larger question, which was, what was the technical learning curve like to initiate a podcast?
David Sparks: [00:45:37] When we did Mac Power Users at the beginning, we edited ourselves in GarageBand. There was a great app – and it just came back – called Levelator. And so, we would do the edit in GarageBand and we would run this app called Levelator. And it’s now in the Mac App Store, so that’s awesome. And what Levelator does is, it balances the levels of the voices. Because if you listen to a podcast and one person’s really loud and the other person’s really soft, and you find yourself driving down the road with your hand on the volume knob of the radio so you can hear it. You know, that’s a bad podcast, right? So, we got, like, the basic tools to make a passable podcast and we did it ourselves for years.
David Sparks: [00:46:19] At this point, we actually do have an editor. There’s kind of a friend of ours who does this professionally. It’s very good. He does it faster. And if you look at, you know, the value of our time, it’s much cheaper to pay him to do it. So, we don’t do the edit anymore. But because we spent all those years doing the edits, we give him very good notes and he knows exactly what to do. And we kind of got a good relationship. But when you’re starting out, you don’t need to go hire an editor. You can do it yourself. But if you want to, there are a lot of people out there on the Internet that for money will do the edit for you, if that’s the thing holding you back.
Mike Blake: [00:46:57] And if it’s basic editing, you know, it doesn’t have to be somebody who’s 100 bucks an hour. You can get somebody on Fiverr, for example, that can do a creditable job if you’re not getting too fancy.
David Sparks: [00:47:09] Yeah. And podcasts don’t need to be that fancy.
Mike Blake: [00:47:12] No, not generally. So, you talked a little bit in passing about sponsors, I would like to ask that because, you know, I do believe you do actually do have sponsors. But you don’t take everyone that necessarily wants to come on because, you know, the creepometer sort of goes where you don’t want it to go. But at what point does a podcast become sponsorable? Or maybe you can talk about at what point did your podcasts start to attract the interest of paying sponsors?
David Sparks: [00:47:40] You know, it was funny for us because we really were trying to scratch an itch. We didn’t think too much about sponsorship. And back then, podcasts weren’t the institution that they are now. So, it really didn’t occur to us early to, like, look into sponsorship. And then, we had a sponsor approach us. The sponsor has been with Mac Power Users for years, TextExpander and Smile. They wrote us and said, “Hey, we’d like to sponsor your show.” And we said, “Well, we’ve never had a sponsor. How much should we charge you?” That’s what’s our response to them, because we didn’t know.
David Sparks: [00:48:14] And over the years, we’ve got better at it. You know, the thing with sponsorship is, you know, there isn’t that many analytics about podcasts, but you do have a pretty good idea how many people are downloading your show, do you have any sort of distribution system. So, you know, you’ve got those numbers. And the point I always make to sponsors is, with a podcast, you’re buying into a trust level between the host and the audience. Because the audience has a trust level for the host, because they’ve been listening to this person for some time. So, that’s what you’re paying for. And as a result, you know, if it’s a new sponsor, we always insist on testing the product and looking into it. We don’t just take anybody that comes on because the trust level with the audience is way more important than any check from one sponsor.
David Sparks: [00:49:10] We had a long time sponsor that made some bad decisions. I don’t really want to get into it on this interview. But we sent them their money back and said, “This isn’t working anymore.” And so, you know, you just got to kind of be careful with the sponsorship, you know, because you have that trust level with your audience. But at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with getting paid for doing this. It’s a lot of work.
Mike Blake: [00:49:35] Yeah. Well, I think there’s a neat lesson in there, too. When I work with my clients and people I mentor, you know, you don’t define yourself by what you do. Define yourself by what you don’t do. And, you know, when you decide to turn down a sponsor and even take that more extraordinary step of returning cash, you’re drawing a line in the sand. You’re saying, “One side of the line is what we will do and on the other side is what we won’t.” And that’s what the definition comes.
Mike Blake: [00:50:11] So, we talked about your approaching 600 episodes and you’ve got two more podcasts, I mean, what is it that keeps you motivated to do this? I mean, is it just the love of the topic? I just don’t know. I don’t want to lead the witness, so to speak. How do you keep going?
David Sparks: [00:50:30] Well, I have never felt like I wanted to stop doing this. In fact, I think if I stopped doing it, I’d be really sad. I think what I enjoy most is the stories that I heard at the top of the show where something I did helped you through a tough time. I mean, all of us going through life just want to help other people, I think, fundamentally. No matter what we choose as a profession, we’re really, as humans, very motivated to help others. And so, you know, I talk about it in my law practice. I have big touches on people’s lives. I help them with big problems. With my MacSparky stuff, I have little touches on people’s lives, you know. But when I get an email from someone saying, “Hey, thanks for that tip. Now, I’m getting my work done faster and I get more time with my kids,” or something like that, it just makes me so happy to know that I can make a little difference with somebody’s life. So, I think that’s the drug that keeps me.
David Sparks: [00:51:28] But also there’s more to that. Like, I’ve become friends with members of the audience over the years and the forum. And, you know, I have a very big friendship with Katie and then Stephen, who’s my co-hosts on Mac Power Users, and just the kinship of making this thing with another person. And I guess that would be another piece of advice I’d give you, don’t make a podcast without a partner unless it’s a guest show. Because having one person talking to the mic alone all the time, it’s hard for an audience. Have another person there. So, there’s a whole lot of different reasons why. And, you know, I guess, what would happen if suddenly nobody liked the show anymore and we had no sponsors, would I stop doing it? I think I still would do it … I just like making it, you know. And I suspect that there will always be an audience for the stuff we’re talking about. But I guess we’ll see.
Mike Blake: [00:52:26] David, this has been a great interview. We’re running out of time here. You’re already fielding so many requests, I’m almost reticent to ask you this, but I’m going to anyway. I’m going to push through. If somebody does have a question they want to follow up, about starting a podcast or keeping it going or improving the podcast they’re already doing, you know, is there a way that they can contact you? Are you receptive to that? And if so, what’s the best way for them to do so?
David Sparks: [00:52:52] Yeah. Go ahead and send me an email at the website. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. I can’t promise I’ll be fast in response. Email is a challenge, obviously, because I have a lot of it. But it really is. I mean, the advice I give on the show really is what I would tell you in an email as well. Just find something you’re passionate about and just go start making it. You know, it’s easy to think about a show, but until you start making it, you don’t really know. And be willing to make ten bad shows as you figure it out. It’s okay. Don’t let the fear of perfection keep you from starting.
Mike Blake: [00:53:34] And look, first couple of shows, nobody’s listening anyway. That’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank David Sparks so much for joining us and sharing his expertise with us.
Mike Blake: [00:53:46] We’ll be exploring a new topic each week, so please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next executive decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy these podcasts, please consider leaving a review on your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us that we can help them. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision podcast.