Building a Content Machine to Support Your Subscribers with EntrepreneurOnFire’s John Lee Dumas
When John Lee Dumas began his entrepreneurial journey, he was hungry to learn as much as he could. He decided to share the advice he was getting and joined the growing ranks of podcasters. To stand out from the crowd, he identified an unmet need. When he had first gone looking for a daily podcast to punctuate his long days, he had found none, so he created a daily podcast. From that simple objective of satisfying his own craving to learn and sharing it with others who would just like him, he’s created an entrepreneurial empire. He’s interviewed over 3,000 people for his podcast, Entrepreneurs on Fire, including Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss, Barbara Corcoran, Gary Vaynerchuk, and yours truly.
The podcast has over 1 million unique listens a month and over 100 million listens since launching in 2012. Over the years, John has incorporated courses, community journals, and other experiences layering in more ways to help his members thrive. He launched a book, The Common Path to Uncommon Success. In this short and sweet conversation, John and I talked about how he’s evolved his offerings over time in support of his avatar, Jimmy, why he wrote his new book, and how he’s been able to build such a content creation machine to serve the ongoing needs of his members.
The following interview is adapted from my podcast, Subscription Stories: True Tales from the Trenches.
Robbie Baxter: Can you share the story of how you became interested in building frameworks and guidance for entrepreneurs?
John Lee Dumas: It goes back to my military days. I loved when I was an officer in the US Army being able to create a plan, frame, or strategy, and then go out and execute that. Fast forward until when I was thirty-two years old, back in 2012, I said, “How can I do this in the entrepreneurship world? How can I take what I’ve learned as an officer in the US Army for eight years and apply those frameworks, systems, mentalities, and automation into entrepreneurship?” We live in a world where we can scale and leverage conversations. For instance, my conversations on Entrepreneurs on Fire get listened to over one point four million times every single month. I have over one hundred million listeners.
Those one-on-one conversations, given the right framework, the right structure, and the right systems can be scaled and leveraged to such a massive degree. My mind was excited by that concept. That was exactly why I wanted to get into the platform of podcasting to build frameworks around that. That was going to allow me to leverage and scale the conversations I was having with unbelievably inspiring and successful entrepreneurs such as yourself and build going forward. I’ve been doing that for more than a decade for more than three thousand episodes and I have no intentions of stopping.
Robbie Baxter: You’re well-known as a guru for entrepreneurs, podcasters, solopreneurs, and people with big ideas. Back when you had just gotten out of the military and you were thinking about what to do next, were you already saying, “I am going to work with helping entrepreneurs,” or were you saying, “I’m going to be an entrepreneur myself?” In other words, is this an accidental sharp left turn or did you always say, “I want to be an advisor to entrepreneurs?”
John Lee Dumas: Here’s what I said, Robbie, “I’m looking around and I’m realizing that for the past six years, I’ve been struggling.” This was six years post my military experience. I tried law school, corporate finance, and commercial real estate and nothing was working for me, so I looked around in 2012 right on the precipice of launching this podcast and this business. The problem was I was hanging out with Don Do-Littles, Debbie Downers, and people that were complaining, whining and moaning. I wanted to change that. By reading the right books, listening to the right audiobooks, and listening to podcasts with successful entrepreneurs, I can change that. It even led me to say, “What if I launched my own podcast that got to have one-on-one conversations with Robbie, Tony Robbins, Barbara Corcoran, and Tim Ferriss? What would that look like?”
We live in a world where we can scale and leverage conversations.
That was the entire concept of deciding that I was the average of the five people I spent the most time with. I had to increase and improve my average and I had to do it quickly. Otherwise, I was going to continue down that road of struggle. That was the idea and I did not know what was going to come next, Robbie, but I decided, “I’m going to improve the average of the five people I spend the most time with. I’m going to give free valuable and consistent content to the world and we’ll see where the chips lie.”
Robbie Baxter: You have now built this community of people who are loyal to you and who are engaged. I know you’re going to say you don’t have a typical listener or a typical best member.
John Lee Dumas: I absolutely have a typical listener. In fact, I have the perfect listener and this is where most people go wrong. They don’t have a typical listener and they don’t think that they have an ideal consumer of their contents. You have to because that person is your North Star. That person will guide you every single step in your journey. Every time you come to a path in the road that you don’t know if you should go left or you should go right, you should not be making that decision. Your perfect listener, avatar, perfect consumer of your content, client, customer, that single person should make the decision for you because that’s what you’re doing.
You’re creating this business for them. You’re creating solutions for their specific problem. My perfect listener of my podcast is Jimmy. He’s forty-one years old. He has a wife and two kids, ages three and five. He has a twenty-five-minute commute to work every single day. I could go on about Jimmy for the next twenty minutes, but I won’t because you might get bored, but I could because I know him that well. That’s what you need. You need a North Star that’s guiding you every step of the way.
Robbie Baxter: On your journey, you have continued to layer in different offerings to support the Jimmys of the world. You started with the podcast, but you’ve layered in conferences, events, books, journals, courses, and a huge range of experiences to continue to deliver on what I would call a forever promise. Can you describe what that promise is? What is it that you’re doing for Jimmy or what journey is Jimmy on that you are accompanying him on?
John Lee Dumas: My forever promise is this. I am going to be having amazing conversations with unbelievably successful, insightful, interesting, and intelligent entrepreneurs. I’m going to share their journey. I’m going to share their struggles and their failure so that Jimmy can learn from those struggles and failures. I’m going to share their successes and wins so that Jimmy can understand what it looks like to succeed and have a win in this world. I’m going to share their best strategies and tips so Jimmy can apply that to his business when it’s applicable.
My forever promise is having amazing, insightful conversations so Jimmy can be a fly on the wall, listen to them, and become the average of the people that are speaking. That’s why I end every one of my podcast episodes by saying, “Fire Nation, you’ve been hanging out with Robbie and JLD today, so keep up the heat.” You are hanging out with myself and Robbie, we are part of your five right now. Because you’re listening to us, you’re part of this conversation. Whether it’s happening live or a year from now, you are part of this conversation. I’m maybe just a listener, but that’s fine as well. Your average is going up as a result. That is my promise to my avatar.
Robbie Baxter: Part of that is community and I would even say companionship along the journey. “Today, you’re hanging out with JLD and Robbie. Tomorrow, you’re hanging out with JLD and Tony. Next week, you might be hanging out with Barbara,” or any of the other people that you mentioned. It’s about being with them on their entrepreneurial journey. I know that you wrote a book and I want to talk about that. Of all the different things that you could do for the Jimmys of the world, what prompted you to say, “The podcast, courses, and journaling are not enough. We need this book.”
John Lee Dumas: I’ve interviewed over three thousand of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs over the past decade or so. I have learned as a mentee to all three thousand of those mentors, and this book is a combination of those conversations, me sitting down and saying, “What is missing? What does my audience need? What are they struggling with? What aren’t they getting that the successful entrepreneurs are getting at such a high level?” Recognizing and realizing, “Robbie, myself, Barbara, Tim, Tony, none of us are rocket scientists.” We have all been on a common path to get you our own versions.
We all have different versions, but to get to our versions of uncommon success, we’ve gone down a common path. When I boiled down the core foundational principles that all successful entrepreneurs share, there are seventeen core foundational principles. I put it in a step-by-step chronological roadmap to get to your financial freedom and fulfillment. It’s all in this book. It took me four hundred eighty hours to put those seventeen concepts in a roadmap in a book, but now it’s ready and I am proud of the final result.
Robbie Baxter: It’s an excellent book. You are a calendar guy. That 480-hour response, you’re aware of how you spend your time. Why is that?
John Lee Dumas: I would use the words hyper-aware because I am hyper-aware of how I spend my time because I either want to be all-in doing something meaningful. Having this conversation with you, I’m all-in on this because this is a meaningful conversation. This is my zone of fire. This is exactly the type of thing I should be doing. The time that I spent writing this book is a good use of my time. If I’m not having good use of my time for my business, I don’t want to be putzing around and I don’t want to be strolling through the social media channels and flipping away, liking this, and liking that.
I want to be all-in on my business, doing things that are productive. That means producing the right content like this interview here, interviews for my show, and writing this book, or I want to be down by my pool hanging out with my dog. Relaxing, hanging out with Kate, going on walks, exercising, working out, and doing things that I want to be doing with my other time. I don’t waste time. I’m either all-in on my work or I’m all-out and I’m enjoying life. It’s black and white for me. That’s how I operate and this has done well for me so far.
Robbie Baxter: A lot of people think that having a big idea when they go on their entrepreneurial journey or in my world, people are getting ready to start a subscription, they’re like, “We’re going to create a subscription and it’s going to teach people how to be successful.” “We’re going to have this membership and it’s going to allow people to have clothes, so they always look their best.” You say that having a big idea is not enough.
John Lee Dumas: The first one you shared is a broad, vague idea that a million other people have every single day. You want to be competing with these one million people every single day? Go ahead and launch that thing and fail like everybody else fails. Your big idea is awesome. That’s exciting. Now you’ve got to take step two of the seventeen-step process because step one is identifying your big idea, so good for you but now there are sixteen more steps. Step two is discovering the niche. Uncovering the void that’s not being filled in that marketplace. Discovering a problem that’s not being solved within your big idea.
Robbie, to give a real-world example, my big idea was a podcast. I would have gotten slaughtered like a little lamb had I gone and launched a podcast so broad and vague, so I niched down to a business podcast. There are three hundred business podcasts. I’ll still get slaughtered like a little lamb. Let me niche down a third time. Now, there are seven podcasts that are business podcasts that are interviewing entrepreneurs. This is getting a little more reasonable, but do I want to be the eighth-best business podcast interviewing entrepreneurs? No. I want to be the best.
How do I be the best? I can’t become the eighth-best by launching that podcast. I said, “What’s a niche that’s not being filled? What void can I step into? What is a problem that’s not being solved by those seven current podcasts?” Robbie, the answer to that was they were all once a week. I said, “I wish that there was at least one show that was every single day.” I solved a problem within those seven podcasts that weren’t being solved and I became the first daily podcast interviewing entrepreneurs. Day one, Robbie, I was the best daily podcast interviewing entrepreneurs.
Robbie Baxter: The best, worst, in-between. It’s interesting, too, because you went to daily. One of the things that I hear people ask me all the time is, “How much is too much for content?” Emails, once a week, once a month, once a day. What’s the right cadence? What I find interesting about your story is that you weren’t getting enough and this idea that if you are trying to learn something or you are seeking inspiration or entertainment or whatever it is, if the content is valuable to you, we can’t get enough. My kids don’t say, “I played a video game yesterday. I’m not going to play one today.” “I watched the Kardashians last week. I can’t believe there’s another show. How boring.” They love it. How do you decide what the right cadence is?
All the magic happens outside your comfort zone.
John Lee Dumas: I’m glad you brought that up because that’s exactly the answer. You get to know your avatar, Jimmy. You get to know who your avatar is. Is it Jane? Is it Sarah? Is it Tommy? Whoever that person is, you get to know them intimately and you create the cadence for them. That’s as simple but as true as the answer is to this question. Back when I wondered if I should launch a daily podcast, I knew that I wanted one, but was that going to be too niched? The answer is if I didn’t want to do the podcast, I would have been the eighth-best podcast interviewing entrepreneurs. Who wants the eighth-best podcast?
I would have been the worst and people would have ignored me rightfully so because they would have gone and listened to the best, the second-best, and the third-best. Why are they going to listen to the eighth-best? There’s only so much time in the world. Who’s listening to the eighth-best version of the Kardashians? That many levels down? No. That is the critical thing to understand. When you are dialing in your avatars, you’re saying, “I’m not trying to serve everybody. I’m not trying to resonate with everybody.”
I’m just trying to resonate with my perfect avatar, customer, clients, consumer of my content, or whatever that looks like. That’s who I’m serving. When I typed in Twitter back in 2012 ‘daily podcast’, I had some people that were like, “I could never listen to a daily podcast because that’s too much.” They weren’t my avatar. They weren’t Jimmy. There were some people who wrote back, “I’ve been dying for a daily podcast.” They were my Jimmy. I was not trying to serve everybody. I was just trying to serve my perfect audience member, perfect Jimmy, or perfect avatar, and I focus on that person for years.
Robbie Baxter: That’s important. If you want to have an ongoing relationship with somebody, you have to know them. In the world of subscriptions and membership models, people want to have an ongoing relationship. They want that customer to keep buying from them or to keep looking to them first for advice, products, insights, what have you. You’re so good at knowing who your audience is, building an ongoing relationship with them, and layering in more value over time to continue to help them achieve the goal that you promised them in the first place. You were walking along with them on their journey and bringing in lots of education and inspiration. It seems like a lot of people are becoming entrepreneurs. Maybe because of COVID or they’re home more or they lost their jobs. Are you seeing a rise in new entrepreneurs?
John Lee Dumas: Let’s talk about the comfort zone. As humans, we are innately trained to seek our comfort zone. Many people want to live within their comfort zone because they know it, understand it, good at it, and it feels good and they’re successful enough. There’s a phrase that I use that is so key. All the magic happens outside of your comfort zone. There have been many people for so long, Robbie, who have been in this comfort zone rut. They didn’t hate their job that much. They were making enough money to get by and they were happy enough, and then boom, COVID came and shook things up.
Now people either got fired or they start working from home or they were now seeing like, “I can work from home because my company’s letting me. I like this.” They’re looking around and they’re saying, “I’m out of my comfort zone, but I’ve made some magic happen.” Now they’re starting to realize, “You can make some magic outside of your comfort zone. This rut that I was in that maybe I didn’t even realize that I was in, I’ve gotten shaken out of it. Now I’m almost like, ‘What else can I do in this difference? What else is there for opportunities out there?’” We definitely see that in the entrepreneurial world.
We’re seeing people who are like, “I don’t have an hour commute to work anymore, there and back. Two hours a day are given back to me. I’m able to be more efficient because I’m not having these watercooler conversations or just hanging out in the cafeteria. I’m getting my stuff done. Now I have time to get other stuff done. What would it look like to start a side hustle, start something different, or educate myself on different areas? Whether that be podcasting or writing a book or starting an Etsy store or doing a social media account.” Things that people didn’t think they had time for, now they’re experimenting with.
To all those people, I’ll say one thing. Become the single best solution to a real problem and you have a chance of winning if you do that. If you try to become a pale, weak imitation of the thousands of successful entrepreneurs that you see out there, you’ll be just that, a pale, weak imitation of them, and nobody wants a pale, weak imitation. They want you. You’re special. You’re unique. You are a snowflake. Look within. You have a big idea. You have a zone of fire that you can live within that nobody else can bring to this world. You can bring this to the world. Don’t be a pale imitation of other people. Be the best version of yourself.
Robbie Baxter: People reading this I know are saying, “That sounds great, JLD. He’s done it. He’s way out making $250,000 a month and living in Puerto Rico, living the dream, but he has a huge audience. You keep telling me to niche down and you keep telling me to do the thing I do best. If I tell you the thing I do best, there’s one person out there that’s going to want it, so I’m not going to have a big enough audience.” What do you have to say to them?
John Lee Dumas: I’d say you’re dead wrong. Cry me a river. Stop complaining. Stop looking for every excuse not to do something. How about do something? How about listening to the advice of people who have had the success that I’ve had and the three thousand entrepreneurs that I’ve interviewed over the past decade or so have had? How about starting to follow their advice and my advice, going forward, discovering a niche, becoming the best solution to a real problem, and delivering that in a massive way? Many years later, I do have a massive audience, but my audience started out at zero.
I niched myself all the way down four times until the first daily podcast interviewing entrepreneurs. Nobody listened at first, and then some people listened, and then more people listened. Over a decade, I’ve gotten over 100 million listens. I built a massive audience. You can’t start today at my ten years of work. You have to start today where I started ten years ago, which was at zero. If you are afraid to niche, you will fail.
Robbie Baxter: I want to talk a little bit more about The Common Path to Uncommon Success because first of all, I love the title. I love the idea of the shared learnings of all of these three thousand people. You do this every day. You’re talking to these great people. Were there any surprises for you when you went back? I imagine that you went back for your transcripts and pre-recordings and looked for patterns and maybe did a little bit of quantitative analysis on it or looked for themes. Did anything surprise you?
John Lee Dumas: I wanted to create the definitive answer that my audience was asking me over and over again and I knew how to do that. I just had to sit down and download all the genius from the three thousand interviews that I’ve done over the past decade and pull out what I consider the core foundational principles that all successful entrepreneurs share. When I boiled that down, Robbie, I was looking at seventeen core foundational principles that all successful entrepreneurs share. I put those in a step-by-step chronological roadmap. I was like, “This is the book, seventeen chapters, step-by-step chronological. This is a roadmap to financial freedom and fulfillment.”
I sat down and I wrote that book chapter one, step one, all the way through chapter seventeen, step seventeen, The Common Path to Uncommon Success. This is not the complicated path or the hidden path or the secret path. It is a common path to uncommon success. Robbie, let me be clear, common does not mean easy. This is hard work. If you are not willing to work hard, do not buy this book, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, do none of those things. I want to be honest with you. It’s hard work to build a dream business. I worked hard to build Entrepreneurs on Fire. Robbie’s worked hard to build what she’s built.
Do you know what also is hard? Being broke, living paycheck-to-paycheck, waking up every day, looking in the mirror, and being a little disappointed in yourself for not fulfilling and achieving what you are capable of achieving. That’s hard, too. By the way, I lived that life for six years, so I’m speaking from experience. I came to a fork in the road and I said, “The path to the left of building my business is going to be hard. Staying broke and under-achieving, that path to the right is hard, too. Do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to choose my heart,” and I did. It was hard work to build this business. Now I have financial freedom, fulfillment, and uncommon success. I’ve written the book that will give you the exact same thing if you’re willing to do the work and you’re willing to choose your heart.
Robbie Baxter: When you were writing the book, did anything pop out at you that you hadn’t expected where you said, “I didn’t realize that everybody said the same thing or it’s a common path?” Was there one thing that surprised you that many people said that you hadn’t quite seen or registered when you were doing the interviews every day?
John Lee Dumas: Chapter seven, step seven surprised me because it took me forever to write and when I finished, I thought, “This is 13,500 words. Just this chapter alone.” The chapter is designing your content production plan. When I step back, I said, “This is why I’ve been so successful for a decade. I’m making over $100,000 a month for 91 months in a row because of this content production plan that I’ve created with Entrepreneurs on Fire.” After a decade or so, we now have a fantastic content production plan.
It used to be terrible. Now, it’s fantastic. If you’re reading this, your content production plan is likely terrible. It’s okay. Everybody’s is terrible when you start. This book, chapter seven, step seven, designing your content production plan surprised me because I was like, “People’s lives will be changed when they read this chapter.” Designing a content production plan for potentially the first time in their life, at least have a great one for the first time in their life, will change their life.
Robbie Baxter: You’re not the only one who does that. A lot of successful people do it and I’m glad that you devoted a chapter to it. If you have a plan, it’s easier to produce, so that’s excellent. Before we go, since I have the leading expert, I have a podcast and I’m an author, what advice might you have for me?
John Lee Dumas: For Robbie, I would say you should have a minimum of eight different calls to action at the end of your every single show. Only one per show, but rotate eight different ones that are a call to action. Get your readers into one of your funnels that’s leading people to a sale, product, service, community, or whatever that might be. I’ve been rotating a call to action for several years. It’s the last thing that my guests hear on my show is me telling them, “Here’s a great opportunity for you to do X, Y, and Z.” One call to action at the end.
I’m always driving my audience using different calls to action to rotate them to different funnels in my business that are all producing revenue. The biggest thing about podcasting is you have to realize the truth that podcast listeners listen to podcasts. When you are a guest dropping value on other people’s podcasts, you are doing a great job in clearly having your potential audience listening to you. If you have a call to action to get them over to your show, you’re going to convert them because you’re converting the converted. Listening to podcasts is already part of their day.
Robbie Baxter: I’m going to work on it. That’s a good one, eight calls to action. The last thing I want to do is a speed round. What was the first subscription you ever remember having?
John Lee Dumas: I’d say Netflix, to be honest, back in the DVD days.
Robbie Baxter: Three DVDs out at a time, red envelopes. What’s your favorite subscription of the COVID era?
John Lee Dumas: We have a subscription called MUD\WTR. It comes every couple of months and it is a great combination of mushroom, coffee, and cream.
Robbie Baxter: Healthy, nutritional, and delicious. The last podcast you listened to?
John Lee Dumas: Business Wars.
Robbie Baxter: Your superpower?
John Lee Dumas: Consistency.
Robbie Baxter: A time you felt like a member and you belonged?
John Lee Dumas: When I was at my college basketball games and I never missed another one.