#23: Nick True, founder of Mapped Out Money, shares his journey of starting an online business and what it took to grow it to the point where it could fully support his life.
What’s great about Nick’s story is even though his business may have taken longer to grow than he anticipated, he never gave up and and found ways to make it work until he could turn his vision into a reality.
Nick also shares how he found his perfect starting niche and the steps he’s taken to maximize and diversify his revenue streams as he continues to grow his audience.
Ep. 23: Turning Your Vision Into the Life You Want with Nick True
Nick: My story is not, I listened to a podcast and then I was like, I'm going to be a blogger. And then in six months I was making 20 grand a month. You know, like that's not my story. My story is I listened to a podcast in mid 2015 and I was like, I'm going to be a blogger. And then four years later my website was actually making enough money to support us with me and my wife. And that's not $100,000 a month. Right? That's, Oh, we can live on our website now. Okay. And so one would be patience. And for us, the way we've been able to have patience for this has been having a lot of clarity around what we want our life to look like. And that keeps driving us.
Josiah: That was Nick True, content creator and founder of Mapped Out Money. And in this episode he shares his journey of starting an online business and what it took to grow it to the point where it could fully support his life. What I love about Nick's story is even though his business may have taken longer to grow than he anticipated, he never gave up and found ways to make it work until he could turn his vision into a reality. Nick also shares how he found his perfect starting niche and the steps he's taken to maximize and diversify his revenue streams as he continues to grow his audience. I'm super excited to share this conversation with you. So let's jump in.
Announcer: You're listening to the Content Heroes podcast where entrepreneurs, marketers, and creatives share how they build profitable businesses on their own terms by creating content online. And now your host, Josiah Goff.
Josiah: Welcome to Content Heroes, everyone. I'm here with Nick True, who is the founder of Mapped Out Money. Nick, thanks for being on the show today.
Nick: Hey, thanks for having me on. I'm really looking forward to it.
Josiah: Awesome. Well, let's start with your origin story. Why don't you tell us how you got into online content creation?
Nick: Yeah. So I kinda had a winding path to get there way, I guess. If we really want to talk about how I got started with creating content. I was in a, I want to be Blink182 band in high school. That really turned out to be more Jonas Brothers. So, you know, we tried, but I mentioned that because it was good for me to get over the fear of creating something and putting it out into the world for people at my high school and in my local community to see and make fun of. And so to get over the fear of creating something and putting it out, I think looking back now, I can see how helpful that was. But it took me a while to get into this. So I ended up going to college for Mechanical Engineering because that was what you're supposed to do, you know, go and get a good degree and get a good job. And I got out of college and I didn't want to be a mechanical engineer. I didn't, didn't like my job all that well. And throughout this time I had gotten really into personal finance, just reading it for myself, learning about it for myself, reading blogs and reading books and listening to podcasts. And at some point along the way I realized, Oh, all these people that I follow, they actually do this for a living. And I also had a little bit of experience teaching. I used to tutor Math and I used to teach piano lessons and I, so I had some experience with teaching and I always really enjoyed it. And so I started putting this together and back in about mid 2015 and saying, Hey, you know, I love personal finance and I love teaching and I hate my job. I wonder if there's a way that I could, you know, make a transition out. And so that's maybe how I initially got into it and we can go anywhere you want to from there.
Josiah: That's great. So what did that look like? That transition?
Nick: For me it looked like a couple of things. And one of the things I'm really big on for anybody who wants to create content and get paid to do it and build a business on the back of it, is that oftentimes it's actually more helpful to start by freelancing if one of your main goals is to get out of your job quickly because it's typically faster to make money and it also can help you learn skills that you're going to need later on. And so my path, I started blogging and I got about two or three months in and I realized I really didn't know what I was doing. And I didn't want to be in my job as long as it might take to grow the blog. So for me, I started looking at saying, okay, while I taught myself a few basics of like how to do some WordPress site, like how to, you know, think about content, I wonder if I could start doing some freelance work for people who were much bigger than me doing what I wanted to do so that I could learn from them and also get paid for it. And so I focused first on freelance writing and got good, okay for me. But throughout that process I ended up learning that my strengths lied elsewhere. And long story short, I ended up finding myself doing a lot of digital marketing work for a couple of people, more on the building out email marketing funnels and how to, you know, sell the course, how to really structure the backend side of the marketing. And so I stopped freelance writing and started shifting all my efforts to that while I continued creating content for my personal finance business. But what was nice is I was in no hurry for my personal finance business to be able to take off. I was able to build it the way I wanted to at a good pace and learn along the way because I had started to shift my income to be freelancing. And I was able to leave my job, about right at about two years I guess to do freelancing full-time from when I had first stumbled across a podcast talking about this stuff. And then it took another year and a half of freelancing and doing my site before I was able to stop freelancing and really make my site the full-time thing.
Josiah: Wow. So in that time period, cause it's like, you know, three and a half years of transition, what caused you to keep going? Why didn't you give up?
Nick: I've always had, I would call it extreme clarity or pretty strong clarity around where I want my life to go, where I want to be and not only in two or three years, but also in 10 years from now. My wife and I spend a great deal of our time talking about what we want our life to look like and what we want it to be and do. And I, and we can get more into this, but you know, it should be said along this journey over the past couple of years, my wife and I had left and sold a bunch of stuff and moved into a 2007 Airstream travel trailer, and we started traveling around the country. And so we've been on the road for two years throughout this whole transition. And that's been part of the journey. So we want to travel and see the country and experience a lot, but we've got all these other big dreams down the road, 5, 10, 20 years down, and all of those, in order for those to happen the way we want, rely on me building a business that gives me control over my time and gives me control over where we want to live and gives me control over what we care about doing. And so every day I have in my head what we've talked about our life being. So that's been the real driver, that and not wanting to go back to my old life of engineering. Right. So it's just sort of in two-fold in that way.
Josiah: That's great. So you've been on the road traveling. Is it just been the US in the Airstream?
Nick: We dipped into Canada for I guess really like a week 'cause we were very, we needed cell reception badly. And there's a lot of weird stuff when you get on the road. All sorts of problems you've got to figure out. And so we ended up having much better cell reception than we anticipated in Canada. But because we didn't anticipate it to be very strong, we shortened our time there. But other than that, it's been just the US so far and we're hoping to do more Canada going into next year though.
Josiah: Awesome. So I'm really curious, cause I know we talked a little bit about back before we, my wife and I decided to have kids. We were seriously considering doing the RV thing cause I was, I was working remotely at a startup and we had that freedom. And we sold, we were living in Bellingham, Washington, we sold everything, came back, we moved across the country, moved in with my parents for a little bit to try to, you know, get our bearings. And then we went to an RV show and made the horrible mistake of going to an RV show and like convincing ourselves that in order to buy something that we could live in full-time and not drive each other completely crazy, we would have to get this, you know, like $250,000...
Josiah: Oh so, and then we ended up, so we put that on hold and then we ended up having kids instead.
Josiah: So we'll probably circle back around to that at some point. But I'm really curious what it's like for you, you and your wife living full-time on the road and running a business. Like what are some of the advantages of that and what are some of the challenges?
Nick: Yeah, it's, I mean, the advantages are that we get to, you know, some people look at us and go like, Oh, you're on vacation all the time. And it's like, no, that's not it. You know, we, we work 60 probably hours a week on average most of the time because of what we're trying to build. And that's slowing down now that our business is full-time. But when it was freelancing and trying to build a business, you know, it required a little extra effort. But the beautiful thing was that when we got done with work and on the weekends we were in a new city, a new place, a new national park. And that is the cool part. Right? So, I mean those are the main benefits of, if you're outdoors-y, if you'd like to travel, if you'd like to see what's out there, if you'd like that sort of thing. It's nice because you have to just use your two weeks of vacation, right? You can just go somewhere, work there, and then when you're done, go explore. The downside is probably the biggest one being lack of regular routine and lack of regular sense of community. So we've had to try really hard to build in structure into our days. And as you know, even working from home, even when you are remote for your startup, when you transition to working from home, it can be tough to have the motivation to get up, sit down and get after it because there's so much stuff you could be doing, right? Oh, I need to do the laundry. All I need to do that or run out here, procrastinate by watching this. Now take that and then put yourself in a brand new city and a brand new location and a cool area. And it's even, and you maybe came in the late the night before. And so your schedule, you have to be really disciplined. We've learned that it's been very, it's been a learning period to wake up, do what you need to do, you know, and then go do whatever you want. So, and then the second thing being lack of community. So we, we've had, you know, we don't have a regular church that we attend and we don't have a regular group of friends that we go and hang out with on the weekends. Right. It's just us. And so as our years have progressed though, we've made a lot more friends across the country and it's one of the reasons we go to a good number of conferences in this industry so we can meet people and build relationships with people all over so that we can find people and hang out with. We also have a couple of regular sort of weekly mastermind groups that help keep us engaged with regular people. But it's definitely different than being able to have, you know, real community in your backyard.
Josiah: Yeah, for sure. So I'm curious what your business looks like. You said you're, you've transitioned now kind of out of the freelance and your business is sustaining your lifestyle. What does that transition look like?
Nick: Yeah, so for us, like I said, I used to have at one point I got up to six or seven freelance clients, you know, doing small projects, small things here and there for a bunch of different people. And over time I had two clients in particular that wanted me to do more work with them. So I ramped up the work I did with those two and then dropped all the other clients. And I did that for a year and a half, two clients plus our business. And that transition was amazing because I got more hours with a smaller number of clients. And so from that standpoint I learned so much more and I was able to really dive deep into how they're doing stuff and pick up and like really start applying it to my business. So the way our business works now is YouTube is sort of our top of funnel. It's our, so our main content platform. And we produce weekly shows there. We're trying to get to two a week. We'll see if we can up that pace. But we produce weekly videos their about personal finance and budgeting and we make money in a handful of ways, right? We get YouTube ads, which actually do pretty well for us, especially in the finance space. We do affiliates, we have a couple of affiliates that we work with. I have one-on-one coaching that I will do with people who want to work with me directly for budgeting help. And then I have some group classes that we run regularly and those are a little bit different than a DIY course that a lot of people do, but same similar concept. It's group-based coaching. And so between, you know, sort of the smorgasbord of those things, we're able to make it work. And YouTube was really the thing that took off for us. So as you'll notice, I said at the beginning I started blogging. For me, I found this is a big part of my story and what I try to tell others, is when you're looking to create content, you can, right? You can talk podcast, right? You can do video, like those are sort of your three main things that you can do to make content for the world and you need to lean into the things that you're strong in and really have some self awareness around that. Because I started with writing because I liked to read. And so I was like, Oh well I read all these bloggers, I'll start there, but I'm not actually as strong in writing as I am doing other things. And so I blogged for a long time without getting a lot of traction. And when I made the shift to YouTube, my first YouTube video, it wasn't amazing. But my first video got more comments and views than some of my most recent blog posts, you know? So it was like, okay, I need to lean into this. And so I deviled down on YouTube and I stopped writing and we just triple down on like, we're going to make videos and this is what we're going to lean into. And that's when we really started to see some growth. And eventually I'd like to get back to doing some blogging and we're trying to launch a podcast. I want to do more holistic, but for the time being we had to niche down and just focus on one thing.
Josiah: Yeah, that's great advice. That seems to be a common theme that I've heard in talking with content creators is a lot of people when they start out, they either go one of two ways. They do this one thing because they see other people succeed in this particular platform and they're like, okay, well that's what I need to do to succeed. Or they try to do all the platforms at once and if you're not operating in your strength, if you're not, you know, sitting in your sweet spot of what you're uniquely talented with, then you're just going to burn yourself out. So that's really great that you were able to learn that lesson pretty early on and make that transition. What has been your strategy for growing your YouTube channel? I'm curious.
Nick: Yeah, so I first heard of the concept called the halo effect from a guy named Derek Halpern. And I don't know if you've heard of this content. Have you heard of the halo effect before? Are you familiar with the halo effect?
Josiah: I've not heard of the halo effect.
Nick: So it's basically a psychological bias that humans have. And it is where if we deem you as an expert in one thing and I think you're like, Oh, you're the guy for that thing. If you start then doing something that's very closely, tangentially related, I will automatically put a halo on you and assume that you're an expert in that thing as well. And so what a lot of content creators, our problem is they create content on every single aspect of their area, right? Every single aspect of finance. Well that's a ton. That's a massive amount of things that I could create content on. And then I don't become known for anything. Finance is way too broad. And so when I heard that concept, I really believed that it made good sense to me. Like if my mechanic, who I trust the works on my cars and I know he's awesome and legit, and then I have a problem with my boat or my lawn mower, I assume that if he says, yeah, I can help you with that, he's, he probably knows what he's doing, right? They're close enough. And so for me, what I was like, I'm going to become the guy for one thing and then eventually I'll start expanding again. So what I did is I started creating a lot of content around budgeting because that was the area I really cared about a lot. So not investing, not debt, religious, just straight up managing money day to day basis on budgeting. And in that I had one or two videos. So that was sort of a strategy, right? That, and then I was like, let's just create a bunch of videos on budgeting. And I was doing YouTube keyword research to look and see what people were searching for and try to make videos for that kind of content. And then I had one video do really, really, really, really well around YNAB, which is a specific budgeting tool to software program for budgeting. One of many. And that video took off like a rocket ship. And it was the right content and the right keyword or whatever. And I was like, okay, we're like we're tripling down again. And so I made eight or nine videos of the next couple of months all around different aspects of using YNAB for your budget. And I became the YNAB guy. And if you Google YNAB or you put YNAB into YouTube, my face comes up and I started building a business just off the back of being the YNAB guy. Right? Which sounds like so incredibly niched. It's crazy cause it's like this one sort of smallish niche budgeting tool. But from there I was able to grow a coaching basis and class basis and all these other things and that has made plenty of money for us to be able to live full-time. And so now that I've sort of done that piece, we're looking to find ways to start expanding again. 'Cause I don't want to be the wine app guy in 10 years. I'm using it as a jumping off place right? Now, people have put a halo over me. I know what I'm talking about when it comes to budgeting. So now when I start talking about investing or some other things that are interesting that are tangentially related, the hope is that those people will trust me with that as well.
Josiah: So you mentioned that YNAB is a very niche topic, which is true. But the other thing about it is the people who do use, YNAB are just hardcore about it, like they love it. Yeah. And I'm one of those, I love YNAB as well because it solved just in our own family finances, it solves some very specific problems that no other tool could for us. And so then like I'm just, you know, I'm a lifetime user of that tool now just because of the way that they solve those problems. And so my guess would be the reason why that video took off the way it did is that you tapped into an audience that is very passionate about that topic and you helped them. And so then they started passionately following you.
Nick: Bingo. Yeah. Like that's the key. Like it's, you know, it's not obscure, right? There's one app has tens of thousands of users. They have a 50 person team. Like they're a legit company. Right? But on the other hand, I'm not out here trying to be Dave Ramsey, you know, I'm not out here talking about all things to all people and trying to reach the masses just yet. I've got to build a name for myself around something. And to your point, I, you know, I realized that YNAB just didn't have, there isn't a lot of good content on YouTube that wasn't created by YNAB themselves. There wasn't much content created by just users about how you, real life users use the program. And so that's what I did. I made a 35 minute video. It was super long. I thought it wasn't going to do very well, so long and it took off. And what really happened is I didn't do this, I didn't plan this, but a couple of people saw it on YouTube and they thought it was so awesome that they went themselves and posted it to the Reddit community for YNAB. And then that like you can literally see the day that it got posted to Reddit on my YouTube analytics cause it just takes off. And then from there YouTube was like, Oh people like this, we'll keep showing it. So that was two years ago now. Yeah.
Josiah: That's awesome. So Nick, I'm curious now that you said you've created this video, you've sort of started out, found your niche, it started to really get some traction, you started to get a lot of views, a lot of followers and things are growing. How then do you take that and turn that traffic into actual dollars that grow your revenue?
Nick: Yeah, that's a great question. So you know, one of the nice things about YouTube versus like even blogging in some ways, is that you can be very non-business savvy and make a little bit of money because YouTube already has a platform for it, right? They have built an advertising. The second you meet a certain threshold of subscribers, you can turn it on and then all the ads that they show in front of your videos, you get a cut from that, right? So you can make at least a little bit of money without really knowing anything if you have some videos that take off. But that money is not sustainable. So even at my channel size, which is, you know, small but growing, I made right around $12,000 in 2019 from YouTube ads, which is great, but it's not livable, right? We can't live off 12 grand a year. And so we obviously got to come up with a few other things. So for us it started out the easiest place with affiliates. Okay, I already had this YNAB video. Let me email the YNAB team and say, Hey, can I like become an affiliate for you guys? Cause they didn't have a public facing affiliate program at the time. They just had sort of the refer a friend get a free month. I had a lot of free months stacked up after that first video, but I was like, man, it'd be nice to get like actual money. So I emailed them and started building a relationship with their team and so now I do get some affiliate kickback from YNAB, which is great. But again, the, you know, if you want to make livable money, you've got to make more dollars per audience member if you're small, right? That's just how the math works. If you want to live off of low dollars per audience member, you got to have a big audience. The other alternative is larger dollars per audience member. And so for me that was let's do coaching, I can charge higher amounts and let's look into doing group classes, courses, that kind of thing. And so again, because of the freelance work that I had been doing, I'd been working with guys who did this stuff. So I had seen how to build a course. I had seen how to do coaching and structure coaching programs, and I had helped with the marketing aspect of those programs, and so it was taking a lot of the works that I had learned over the two years prior freelancing and just now applying that to my business and finding ways to structure. The other thing about this video in particular is with every piece of content, especially if you want to lean into coaching, there's going to be 80% of people that are going to watch your content, read your content, and it's going to help them and they'll know what to do and then they'll go do it, and that's amazing, but there's going to be a subset of those people that are going to read it. It's going to help them, and then they're going to say, ah, I still don't want to do it myself. I just would rather hire this guy to help me. And those are the people that will reach out. I had two people in the first two months of that video just email me and say, Hey, do you do coaching for this stuff? And I was like, yes I do. Absolutely. If you want to pay me to hop on a phone call, I will coach you for your budget. Yes, I will. And so I, like that's how it started. I did that for a couple of times and I was like, man, I should probably get a public facing coaching page. So let me put that on the site, let me put some prices on there. And then I just kept upping the price every two weeks on a per hour basis until like I sort of got the amount of people coming in that I wanted. Right. I didn't want to be doing a million coaching calls a week. And so I just kept upping the price. And right now it's priced at $150 an hour. And so it tends to be higher income people who can pay that money for coaching but just need help managing their money. They make it, it just goes out. And then from that, I had done coaching for a few months, which was bringing in some real money now. And the beautiful thing about doing one-on-one coaching, which I'm a big fan of if you plan to do any sort of courses, is that when you do one-on-one, you really know the problems you get deep on the individual problems that people are facing. So I was able to take what I was learning from people in coaching and create new YouTube videos, right? That would bring in more people 'cause I was really like really clear on what the problems were. And then from that I was able to create classes and courses that were lower priced that people who weren't as high income could afford and join. And so we created our first one in May of 2019 and we've done three more since then. So we've done four at this point. And those have gone really, really well. And we've gone up in numbers every time, which has been super fun to see. So that's, you know, coaching and classes drive probably 75% of our revenue right now. And then advertising and affiliates pick up the other piece.
Josiah: I love it. So I'm really curious, you know, you had mentioned you had a very clear vision of where you're going. What does that look like for you guys? Where are you headed?
Nick: Yeah, so our game plan is to still travel around for at least another, at least another two years, I think. And when I say travel, it's important to know we do a mixture because family's very, very, very important to us. So we spend a good part of the year in Alabama and Tennessee around family, and then we'll be on the road for three or four months at a time and then we'll come back for a month or two at a time. We've got some grandparents in particular that we're very close to that we really just don't know, you know, how much longer we have with them. And so we're trying to balance out wanting to travel with also wanting to spend time with family. But eventually we want to settle down, buy a house and do the saying now what that means for us. And so part of that stuff is we know we're going to settle in the Southeast because that's where our family is. We don't know where we'd like to be at the beach. And so that is high on our list. But we've got a lot of things, right? So we're looking at investing in rental property. We got a whole list of things you want to be doing. And then one of the big things on our list is my wife and I feel very strongly about adoption and that's a big part of what we feel like we are meant to do and be involved in. And so at some point in the next three to five years we'll be getting very serious about that process. And sometimes it can be expensive, sometimes it doesn't always have to be. My wife and I both have some exposure and some work in our life with special needs and we feel fairly strongly about looking at adopting a kid or multiple kids who maybe have some, some special needs and help that they need. And that can also get expensive. It can be, right? And so there's a lot of things with where we see our life going that do require, or at least would be easier if we have good income and more importantly, control of our schedule, and control over our time and our efforts. And so that's the big driver in the next five to 10 years that keeps us going and trying to build the business that we're building.
Josiah: That's awesome. So Nick, I'm curious, if you were to leave one or two pieces of advice for what you've learned over the last few years building a business online, what would that be for people? Maybe they're just starting out or maybe they're in the similar position to where you were a year or two ago where you, you know, you were just starting to see some traction and wanting to, they're wanting to really take advantage of that.
Nick: Yeah. So I, I'll say a couple things. So the first one would be patience and you know, my story is not, I listened to a podcast and then I was like, I'm going to be a blogger. And then in six months I was making 20 grand a month. You know, like that's not my story. My story is I listened to a podcast in mid 2015 and I was like, I'm going to be a blogger. And then four years later my website was actually making enough money to support us with me and my wife. And that's not $100,000 a month. Right. That's, Oh, we can live on our website now. Okay. And so one would be patience. And for us, the way we've been able to have patience for this has been having a lot of clarity around what we want our life to look like. And that keeps driving us and on that note, one thing I'll say is before I go to the second point would be if you don't know what you want your life to look like in five to 10 years, which I think is totally normal, one thing I really encourage people to do is to create what I call a culture of dreaming in your household where you don't have these intense, serious conversations about like, Oh honey, what do you want to, what do you want our life to be in five years? You make the conversations lighthearted in the car, on the road, when you're over dinner you ask highly specific questions that are just fun. Like if you could pick up your family altogether, cause family a lot of times keeps people still, but if you can pick your family up with you and move anywhere in the world, where would you live? If you could live anywhere, if you had the money and you have the family just to chat, if you could do this, what would you do? If you could make the same money you make now, but do anything for a living, what would you do? And my wife and I talk those sorts of questions and those sorts of conversations all the time. And so one time, you know, after doing that for weeks, at some point somebody eventually pipes up and says, Hey, we've been talking randomly about living in an RV. Let's actually talk like seriously, what would that take to do? And so just create a very low intensity around those conversations, whether it's with your spouse, your wife, or your friends. I did this in college when I was single and I would talk about, you know, with my friends about this stuff. You know, if you could do anything, what would you do? I'd snowboard for a living. That's what I would do, right? If I could do anything, just create a culture dreaming. The second thing I would say would be really lean into your strengths. Listen to these podcasts, listen to people that are here. Listen to me, listen to whoever. But just because this worked for me this way doesn't mean that you should do it exactly that way. You need to look at your strengths the way that you're, you know, are you a good writer, a good speaker or good on video? Are you good at teaching? Are you good at entertaining? Cause you can build a business off content creation for entertaining. That's not my style. My style is education, but you can do it off entertaining, too. So lean into your strengths, get ideas from everyone else, but you've got to double down on what you are really strong in. That's what I would say.
Josiah: Let's create a culture of dreaming. I love that. I love that. Well Nick, this has been awesome. I love your story. Thanks so much for sharing with us. Before we hop off, can you tell everyone where they can find you online?
Nick: Yeah, if you just go into YouTube and put Nick True in the search bar you'll find my channel and you can check out the videos we're making over there and I would really appreciate it.
Josiah: Awesome. Thanks so much. I really appreciate you being on the show today.
Nick: Hey, thanks for having me on, man. I had a blast!
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