Many folks dream of getting paid to travel. For Ernest Shahbazian, his side hustle as a travel content creator allows him to do just that.
In episode 13 of the podcast, I talk with Ernest, a management consultant who solopreneurs on the side as a YouTube travel influencer (>22k subscribers) providing travel tips, destination reviews, points and miles tutorials, and travel gear reviews.
With over 2B monthly users and crazy engagement, YouTube has become a “too big to ignore” platform for video influencers.
We talk with Ernest about how he got started, his content creation process, and how much he is currently earning.
What you’ll learn in this episode:
- How Ernest got the idea for starting a travel content channel
- Why he decided to focus on YouTube early on
- How he has grown his subscribership
- The diverse ways he is monetizing (not all ads and affiliates)
- Growing pains of scaling
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Links mentioned in this episode:
- Trip Astute YouTube channel
- Trip Astute website
- CardRatings Affiliate program
- Video Creators podcast (Tim Schmoyer)
- TubeBuddy Express podcast (Dusty Porter)
- Side Hustle School podcast
- Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do (Chris Guillebeau)
- HYW private Facebook community
Read this episode as a post:
Andrew Chen 1:55
My guest today is Ernest Shahbazian. He’s a full-time management consultant.
He also side hustles as the founder of Trip Astute, a travel content brand that provides travel tips, destination reviews, points and miles tutorials, and reviews of travel gear.
His YouTube channel currently has over 22,000 subscribers and he’s focused on making this business a financially self-sustaining full-time gig.
Ernest, welcome to the show. So great to have you here.
Ernest Shahbazian 2:18
Thank you for inviting me. I really appreciate it. It’s nice to be on the podcast.
Andrew Chen 2:21
Awesome. I would love to first just start by maybe you could tell us a little bit about what your solopreneur business is all about.
Ernest Shahbazian 2:28
Yeah, absolutely. So I started a YouTube channel called Trip Astute. It’s a website and a YouTube channel.
And we’re really focused on travel tips, gear reviews, points and miles tutorials, and destination reviews. The content is more geared toward helping people travel to their destination rather than being more aspirational.
There’s a lot of great content on YouTube that’s very aspirational, and I love that content as well. But I think our videos are a little bit more focused on how to get to that place and then giving you tips along the way to help you manage your vacation or travels.
Andrew Chen 3:03
Got it. How did you get started with this? Where did you get the idea from? Maybe if you could take me back to the moment where you realized that “This is something I actually want invest my time in.”
Ernest Shahbazian 3:14
Absolutely. So I’ll take you way back.
I started consulting around 2007. And at the time, I was traveling pretty much every week. And I had a boss who was telling me, “You really need to get a credit card and think about your point strategy.”
And I was like, “I don’t even know what that is. What are you talking about? I have no idea what this whole points and miles thing is,” this whole new world I got sucked into.
So I started doing that. I started getting credit cards to help me gain points and understanding that whole strategy. And I got really sucked into that whole world and started to read a lot of blogs and whatnot.
And I remember thinking, “Maybe I should start a blog.”
It’s a passion of mine. It’s more of a hobby, but it’s something that I thought maybe would be useful for other folks.
So fast forward to 2016. I was talking to a coworker of mine who was planning a vacation and I was telling him about which credit cards to get, how to maximize points.
And he was like, “Oh, you should start a YouTube channel. You should really look into it.”
And at the time, I was still thinking of doing a blog. But when I looked on the YouTube space, I realized that there wasn’t as many people at the time talking about this stuff.
There was a lot less people. There were maybe three or four people who were really involved with travel and points and miles.
So I just decided to take the plunge. And in 2017, I decided to start the YouTube channel. And it just happened.
And it was funny because when I started it, I thought, “Well, this will be just for fun. We’ll just see how it goes.”
“If I make any money from it, it’ll just be travel money. It will just be some additional money.”
But it quickly became a thing and it was fun to see it grow. And now it’s like a full-blown side hustle.
Andrew Chen 5:00
Yeah. I can see the equipment behind you looks definitely very industrial strength.
How did you bootstrap in the beginning in terms of getting subscribers and followers and viewers and things like that to just hand crank the beginning of this?
Ernest Shahbazian 5:15
I think a lot of the initial growth was just telling people about it.
I remember the first 100 subscribers. It was probably the hardest part of the whole thing because I remember thinking, “How can I ever grow this channel? Who’s going to find me?”
But I think one of the things I did right in the beginning was that I didn’t start with just one video. I actually created 10 videos first, so I had a little bit of content to show for my channel.
So I think that’s a really important thing for a lot of people starting out because I see a lot of channels that just started with one video. And it’s really hard to ask someone to subscribe to your channel when you only have one video.
So I really tried to have almost like a little pipeline initially that I had created. So I started producing videos, started posting them.
And then I just started reaching out to people. I just reached out to my own private network on Facebook and just let them know.
“Hey, there’s a little project I started. We’d love for you to check it out. Let me know if you have any feedback.”
So that was the initial little boost I got.
But I remember even being at work and just telling my coworkers about it. And I remember one of my coworkers calling her husband and being like, “You should subscribe to his channel right now.”
When I think of it now, it’s funny. But it was that kind of thing where I was just growing organically as much as I could.
And I think from there, a lot of it was just thinking of content that I thought was relevant for the long term because I think in this space that I’m in, a lot of people are doing videos that are very in the moment. It’s almost like a news channel. You’re producing content to feed very real-time news.
And I think that’s great. I think that there’s a lot of great channels that are doing that. And I think they’re doing it very successfully.
But for me, I’ve always been focused on more of the long term ideas, of things that have a longer shelf life. And I think that’s really helped me because it’s also allowed me to be more searchable on YouTube and Google because a lot of times people will be searching for topics that may be relevant for a long time.
I produce some destination reviews that I didn’t think were going to be that popular, but they’ve done well because I think people are actually traveling to those national parks and they’re looking at the video and then they’re finding my channel.
So that’s been a weird strategy that just happened organically, but it’s really helped me with my growth.
Andrew Chen 7:35
Gotcha. I guess two things.
How do you decide what content is likely to be evergreen like that? And what is your process for coming up with ideas to create content in the first place?
Ernest Shahbazian 7:53
So it’s a struggle for me because sometimes I’ll think something is a great idea and then I’ll post a video and then it just won’t go anywhere. It doesn’t get any views.
I think I have one video that I think has 30 views. I think it was really early on in the channel. And it was frustrating to put that much work into a video and then have no one actually watching it.
For me, I started to use a lot more tools now that can help me see what the SEO rating is for that search term. And sometimes it’s just slight variations.
Sometimes I might do a video on, let’s say, the Chase Sapphire Reserve versus the Sapphire Preferred. That video, for example, I might coat it with different kinds of search terms. Something like “best travel credit cards 2019” might do very well versus “best travel credit card” or “best credit card.”
So it’s just thinking about which kind of search terms might attract people and also thinking about related things that would also trigger someone to want to watch my video. So it’s a lot of researching upfront.
And it’s some of the things that you do behind the scenes when you do video productions that you want to think of “Well, what can I do to create a video that’s going to be found and searched on and that’s going to be interesting to people?”
So I might do a topic that maybe won’t inherently be interesting to someone who just looks at it, but if someone is researching on a similar topic, then they’ll very likely be interested in watching this video as well.
So a lot of is actually using tools. I use TubeBuddy for YouTube.
TubeBuddy allows me to search on different search terms, and it shows me the volume of that search and also the competition for that search. And it gives me a score as to whether it’s a good topic or maybe a topic that isn’t as relevant or as searchable as other types of topics.
So those are the type of tools that I use to search on what might be interesting and not. And also just a lot of time researching as well.
I have an RSS feed with a bunch of different blogs. I’m constantly seeing what people are talking about and then what’s a hot topic.
Especially on the credit card space, I feel like that side, it’s almost like a new cycle. There’s always a new promotion or a new thing that’s come out.
So staying on top of those things has also helped me a lot with crafting my content and then creating a pipeline as well of topics.
Andrew Chen 10:14
Do you think that’s helped?
I’m just looking at your channel now and you have many videos that have tens of thousands of views. You have a few that are 100,000.
You actually have one that’s ten times more. It’s more than a million views.
Is that type of success a product of, it sounds like you have, the process of being very intentional about the content before you create it?
Ernest Shahbazian 10:40
I think so. I want to think it is.
But to be honest, the one that has a million views, which is probably my most successful video, was probably the video that I spent the least amount of time preparing and actually producing. That was just an off the cuff “Here’s some things I observed when I was in the UK.”
My wife is from the UK, so we go there often. And I just thought it would be fun to do one there. I try to stay away from the stereotypes and just talk about things that I noticed as an American.
And it’s funny because I think I wrote that one in the airplane. I just recorded it when I got home. And it wasn’t something that I really got to spend a lot of time thinking about.
And it’s the one that’s done really well. So in that sense, it’s probably a good indication that I need to spend less time scripting and actually maybe just doing more off the cuff kind of videos.
But it’s strange. And I want to believe that a lot of my content is very evergreen, so it’s relevant.
There was one video that I did on the Real ID thing. There’s a new Real ID requirement coming out in 2020.
And I did that video, and initially, it didn’t do very well. I thought, “Oh, that’s too bad. I thought it was going to be more of an interesting topic.”
But I’ve noticed lately that it’s got a lot of views and it’s getting a lot of engagement.
So sometimes it’s an investment. Sometimes I’ll put a video together and it may not be the most relevant topic right now, but I’m hoping that in the future, it’ll be something that people are more interested in or want to learn more about.
Andrew Chen 12:06
Got it. So what right now is your process, at least high level, if you could break it down for us, for creating some of this content?
Because as I look at your YouTube channel, it’s very polished. And it’s clear that even your thumbnails are very intentional. They have a preview text to show really what it’s about.
The font has its own personality. There’s a really clear thumbnail image that, again, communicates what it’s about.
So there’s clearly planning that goes into it. It would be good to understand a little bit about what’s your process in terms of your production process.
Ernest Shahbazian 12:47
Sure. Well, thanks so much for saying that. I really appreciate it because one of things I really try to do is try to make myself really professional. So I appreciate you saying that.
Although I will say that I’m probably not as good of a planner and I’m probably more reactive than proactive on a lot of things.
But my normal process is really just, obviously, you start with the topic.
So I have a pipeline of things that are in the queue, things that I’m thinking about or researching, and then things that are just out there that I’ve thought about but I’ve not even touched yet.
So I’ve got a whole pipeline of topics. From there, I usually write a script.
I usually write a script for myself as to what I’m going to say. A lot of that is just researching the topic. Usually it starts as an outline and then I fill in to create the script.
And then it’s actually recording.
And one of the things I’ve always tried to do is I always try to come up with the title of the video before I actually record because I think that’s really important for a lot of people, because sometimes I see a lot of videos that are just recorded and then it’s like they just added the title afterwards.
But I think it’s like a book. You want to make sure that whatever you’re producing fits and ties into your title. So that’s one thing that’s really helped me.
Once I’ve recorded the video, it goes into editing. Right now, I’m doing everything, so I’m doing the editing as well.
And then from there, the editing probably takes the most time. It’s probably the most meaty part of the process.
But I will say that once the editing is done, there’s another set of things that have to go into it. I usually take that same script and I create a blog post as well, which gets the video embedded.
And then there’s a whole SEO side of it as well, just trying to create the search terms, adding any type of affiliate links or anything that can generate revenue.
And then just the marketing side of it, talking about it on social media, getting the word out on the videos.
And it’s definitely a process. And I’ve got a bunch of checklists that I use to manage that because there’s just no way I could remember how to do everything.
Even the thumbnail, I didn’t mention that, but that’s also a part of it. Thumbnails, captions, all those things have to go into the final product. And it takes time.
And with the thumbnails too, I started out just really being very casual about my thumbnails when I first started the channel. It was around summer of 2018, I started doing a different kind of thumbnail.
And it seems very subtle. It doesn’t seem like it would make a big deal. It would be a very big deal to change it.
But it has really helped me, I think, with branding myself and branding my content because I think when people see a thumbnail that’s created by my channel, they think, “Oh, that’s Trip Astute.”
So that’s been very helpful. I think before I wasn’t as careful about it, but now I’m trying to stay very consistent with the look and feel of each one.
I went to VidCon, and someone at VidCon had said that you have to show your face on your thumbnail to get the most views. I don’t know if that’s true or not because I’ve tested it out with a couple of different thumbnails.
But it is something I’m trying to do. They said if you can see the white of someone’s eyes, then it’s a good thumbnail. You should have that in your YouTube thumbnail.
Again, I don’t know if all that stuff is true, but I’ve been just trying out to see what works and what doesn’t work. I have added a yellow border to my thumbnail as well.
So it’s things like that that I just test out to see whether it works or whether it doesn’t work. And some of it I keep. Some of it I don’t.
But I’ve tried to create a little bit more of an intentional branding with my thumbnails.
Andrew Chen 16:15
Yeah. It makes sense. I mean, it shows.
I remember when I started my website, I was trying to keep it all in my head because how hard could it be? And then the list got longer and longer and longer.
And then finally, I was like, “No, I have to write this down” because I was actually starting to drop the ball on things.
But now, I also have a checklist. It’s pretty lengthy, but it makes sure that I don’t miss anything. So it’s definitely super useful.
Ernest Shahbazian 16:38
Andrew Chen 16:39
But at this point, you have tens of thousands of subscribers. They can’t possibly all be people you know personally that you initially started growth with.
So what have been the strategies that have actually been successful to help you grow traffic beyond the initial set of folks that you knew personally?
Ernest Shahbazian 17:00
I think one is creating very evergreen content. So that’s been very helpful for me because when I look at my analytics, there’s a lot of people who have come to my channel through just organic searches, which is really cool.
And it’s funny because on the website side, I feel like I’m not doing very well. I’m not very good on the SEO side. But on YouTube, I seem to be doing a lot better.
And sometimes I’ll even search on a term in Google and I’ll find that my video pops up even before my website does. So it’s actually very interesting to see that.
So that’s one side.
I think also, I try to keep my brand and my channel to be a lot more professional. And my content is not very controversial. It’s pretty straightforward.
I try to keep it very ad-friendly. But as a result too, I’ve been able to collaborate and partner with a couple of different companies in the travel space and points and miles space. So that’s been very helpful because sometimes they will help promote or even market some of my videos.
An example is AwardWallet. AwardWallet reached out to me.
I did a video on their service and they were like, “We really like your stuff. Would you mind maybe paring down a video so we can put it on our website? And then we can drive traffic to you as well.”
And so that’s been really cool. When I look at my analytics, I see a lot of traffic coming from AwardWallet. And it’s just small things like that that I’m like, “Oh, this is kind of cool.”
I’m also doing a lot of stuff on HARO, which is “Help a Reporter Out.” Initially, I was trying to get as much publicity as possible to the channel.
For those of you who don’t know, HARO is almost like an email distribution list for reporters who are looking for people to talk about a certain topic or just basically looking for expertise in an area.
And we had a couple of different publications pick us up. I think we had one in USA Today and the L.A. Times as well. So that was cool, getting some publicity there.
And it was just small things. I think I did one on airport tips for LAX for the L.A. Times. It’s small, but all those little things in aggregate help out and they drive traffic to your channel.
And I think for anyone in the YouTube or blog space, it’s all about also producing just content that you think is valuable. So one of the things that I really try to focus on as a content creator is I really try to focus on value.
And I know value is one of those things that people will talk about all the time and it’s an overused term. But the way I always think of it is what is someone getting from watching my video or reading my content?
Is there something in there that they can come out and say, “Oh, I’m glad I watched that” versus just saying, “Oh, that was a waste of time. I can’t believe I just spent five minutes watching a video and didn’t gain anything from it.”
So I really try to focus on the value side of it. And I think that’s been a very successful formula for me.
It sounds very simplistic, but I really try to think of who’s watching my channel. And whether they are advanced or beginner, I try to give them nuggets of information that I think is going to be useful.
So even on a video that’s very simplistic, that may not seem very relevant to someone who’s been doing points and miles forever, I try to find things that maybe they haven’t thought of and include that into the video.
And I also ask them for their engagement.
So I’ll usually end the video by saying, “What do you think? Let us know. I want to hear what you guys are thinking and what you’re doing, so we can help the community out.”
Andrew Chen 20:19
You mentioned that one of the major traffic drivers has been SEO, both on Google and on YouTube. And sometimes even your video pops up before your website.
How does SEO differ on YouTube versus on Google? Are there strategic differences that folks should be aware of?
Ernest Shahbazian 20:39
I have to be honest. I’m not a very good SEO expert in terms of knowing how it works on the website side.
I have a WordPress site and I have Yoast. And I try to match it up and try to do the same kind of thing I do with the YouTube video. But I feel like on the YouTube side, it seems a little bit easier to me.
And the reason I say that is on the website side, and this might be just my inexperience with SEO, but I feel like I’m a lot more limited as to what I can put in as a key focus search term.
But on YouTube, I can put as many search terms as I like, up to 500 characters. So I usually maximize as much as I can that whole thing.
And I’ll put in not just things that are relevant to the exact topic, but things that may be similar to the topic as well, things like “best travel credit cards” or “best something something” that might be relevant to someone searching for that topic.
So that’s been very useful to me.
I need to get smarter on the Google side for my website. I feel like that’s an area where I’m not doing very well.
And I’m actually trying to find people to just help out with that as well because it just doesn’t seem to be a good use of my time to try to figure it out. I think I need to find experts who can help me craft that and improve the content on my website to make it more searchable.
Andrew Chen 22:00
Got it. You mentioned HARO as well. I’ve heard other folks find that strategy effective.
What are some best practices that folks should keep in mind if they are going to use HARO to connect with reporters?
Ernest Shahbazian 22:16
I think when I first started out, I was doing a lot of cookie cutter responses. I was just taking stuff from scripts and just pasting them in. And I wasn’t getting much of a response.
And I understand that. They probably get flooded with requests as well for people who are just doing the same thing, giving cookie cutter requests.
So I really started to pick a time and actually write more personalized responses and really giving people a lot of information.
And also giving them references back and say, “Hey, just so you know, I’ve done some content on this area, so here are some references as well to my websites and videos.”
And I feel like that really helped me as well because rather than just saying, “Hey, I’m giving you a random explanation,” I can back it up by saying, “Hey, I’ve done some content as well on this topic, so here’s some things that you might want to check out.”
And I think that’s really resonated with a lot of the people I’ve engaged with on HARO. And once you build that relationship with certain folks, I feel like they’ve come back to me and said, “Hey, do you have additional information on this?”
Or “I’m thinking about doing an article and I think you probably have done something similar. Can you give me some input?”
So it’s building that relationship as well, because HARO, when you first look at it, it’s very impersonal. You often don’t even get the person’s name. You’re just getting a request and you just have to respond to an email.
But as I’ve done it more and more, you start to gain some relationships and I’ve had people reach out. And we’ve been doing articles and providing input that way as well.
So I guess the advice I’d give people would be don’t just think of it as a task that you just want to get out of the way. Really think about, again, the value that you’re providing, the value of the response that you’re providing.
And then really try to think of it as if you were in that person’s shoes, what kind of response would you want to get and how you can make it as easy as possible for that person to gain the information that they need.
Andrew Chen 24:07
Do you tend to write longer responses to HARO requests or shorter ones? What’s best practice for you?
Ernest Shahbazian 24:14
I feel like actually shorter responses have done better for me than longer responses.
I used to just paste in a huge article or script that I wrote out. And I feel like those would go nowhere because I think people just don’t have time to look at it.
So I really try to be targeted and say, “Specifically to your request, here is my response.” And maybe it’s just a paragraph or two, and then another paragraph or two of just references that I’ve used or just content that I’ve created.
Andrew Chen 24:44
Is the idea that they will actually directly quote from that paragraph or just be intrigued enough to then reach out and say, “Hey, I’d like to actually talk to you further and get more information.”?
Ernest Shahbazian 24:56
It’s a mix of both, actually. So I’ve had both cases where someone has taken verbatim what I wrote in the paragraph. And I’ve also had people who wanted to have a chat with me or additional email exchange just to get some additional information.
Andrew Chen 25:09
Gotcha. How much time per week are you spending on HARO or is best practice, I guess?
Ernest Shahbazian 25:15
I’ve done a lot less of it lately just because I feel like I’ve had less time for it. I’d say I check in multiple times a day just to see if there’s one that really piques my interest and something that I have a strong expertise in.
But I’d say I was dedicating about an hour a day doing the HARO requests and seeing what comes out of it.
I think early on, anything that seemed like it was travel-related, I would try to respond to. But now I’m being a lot more selective and saying, “I only want to respond to things that I think are truly going to tap into my expertise or my knowledge base, not just trying to get publicity for everything.”
It just comes with maturity maybe with the business. But I want to be a little more targeted with the time that I’m spending on it.
Andrew Chen 26:06
Totally. Makes sense.
You also mentioned earlier that you have been able to work with some partners like AwardWallet. There may be others. How have you guys connected?
Did you reach out to them? Did they reach out to you? Has it been a mix?
And how did those conversations go from the initial reach out to an actual partnering type of thing?
Ernest Shahbazian 26:28
I feel like a lot of it initially was me reaching out to people. But then I think as the channel started to grow and I build more of an audience, I’ve had people reach out to me now.
And it’s been cool to be able to have people discover that I’ve created content for them or included them in a video and them wanting to either recruit me for another video or even do a giveaway or sometimes even put me into their affiliate program and that kind of stuff.
So it’s a mix of both.
I think, again, for me, it’s just been producing content that I think is relevant for them and also that’s professional because I think there’s some people in my space that I’ve seen, and I think this probably occurs in a lot of different spaces, that they get a little bit negative or they produce content that isn’t very friendly for advertisers.
And not to say that I’m not honest. I try to be honest in all of my videos about how I feel about things.
Actually, I’ll back it up. The example that I would give is, first of all, when I was talking to one of the brands that I was working with, they basically told me that they were not interested in partnering with some of the other content creators in my space because they thought that that person was very negative, that they were saying really bad things, or they were saying bad things about other partners that they work with.
So I think it’s just being really cognizant of that. And some of that is just being professional and just realizing that you can have an opinion about something, but it doesn’t mean that you should go on a rant about it.
And you can if you want to. It’s not that you can’t do it.
But if you want to work and build relationships with other brands, I think it’s important to always maintain that level of professionalism. I think it really helps with being able to collaborate and build those relationships.
Andrew Chen 28:11
Yeah. It makes sense.
So, how do you make money currently? How do you monetize both your website and YouTube currently?
Ernest Shahbazian 28:20
And I think a lot of times, when I talk to people, they’re like, “How do you make money on YouTube? It doesn’t even make sense. How does that even work?”
The most traditional way of making money on YouTube is AdSense. So if you have a certain amount of subscribers and a certain amount of views, YouTube will enable you to get ad revenue from your videos. So that’s their AdSense program.
That actually is not much money though, to be honest. For a lot of creators, it’s actually not very much money. You have to have a lot of views and a lot of engagement in order to have a pretty steady and strong AdSense revenue.
For me, a lot of it comes from affiliate income. So I do a lot of videos on credit cards and I have a relationship with CardRatings.
CardRatings is my affiliate manager for the credit cards. And so if I get someone who signs up for a credit card through my channel, I get a certain percentage depending on the card. And that’s been a really great way for me to build some income from that as well.
I also do credit card consultations. So I do a 15-minute free card consultation on my website. It’s a really easy way for me to, I think, provide value for people.
And the proposition I always tell people is that “You’re not obligated to use my links, but if you found this to be valuable and you want to support the channel, this is a very easy way to do it.”
“And it’s a win-win for both of us because you’re getting the same offer that you would get if you went on the website, but you’re able to support me as well.”
So I think that resonates with a lot of people because it’s almost like a win-win for everybody. And I think that’s a really good way for me to make money.
Another way that I make a lot of money is also the stock videos that I produce.
A lot of my videos have a lot of B-roll. So I’m constantly recording just random things, whether it’s even just credit cards or just random things that I encountered that I might use for video.
But as a result, I can use that to also sell to stock video agencies as well.
Andrew Chen 30:16
Ernest Shahbazian 30:18
Yes. I use a program called Black Box. Or actually, it’s a service.
And Black Box is actually very cool because what it does is it takes your videos and it basically sends it out to all the major video stock agencies.
And it’s really useful because sometimes I’ll produce something, especially if it’s a travel-related thing, I’ll take some drone shots, I’ll do something, and then next thing I know, I’m able to make money off of that same clip.
So that’s been a really interesting way to make money. And this is an area where I really want to grow because I think I have so much stock video footage that I just hadn’t curated and cleaned up. But it’s a really interesting passive income stream for me as well.
Andrew Chen 30:59
Yeah, totally. How much are you currently earning?
Ernest Shahbazian 31:03
It’s anywhere between 2000-3000 a month. So it’s not a huge amount.
It’s not enough for me to quit my day job. But for me, it’s enough to pay our rent here in Los Angeles.
Andrew Chen 31:12
Yeah. That’s meaningful.
Ernest Shahbazian 31:15
So it’s a legitimate side hustle at this point.
Andrew Chen 31:18
So what does your current day look like in your business, given that you are still working full time? And how does it contrast to what it looked like when you were just starting out?
Ernest Shahbazian 31:33
I think that you probably find this as well. When you first start out, it’s a side thing. You’re putting in some time.
But as it’s grown, it’s taking up a lot more of my time. I have to be a lot more structure as to what I’m doing and how I’m managing my time.
As you mentioned before, I’m still working full time. So anywhere from the normal daytime hours, I’m pretty focused on the work that I’m doing with my full-time work.
And then pretty much afterwards, in the evenings is the time where I start my “night shift,” I’d say. And the night shift is basically my side hustle.
So I think a lot of it is really just being very adamant and very structured about how I spend that time.
So I have almost like a little schedule where I’m saying Mondays and Tuesdays, I should be doing this. Wednesdays and Thursdays, I’m editing, finalizing a video.
Friday, I’m starting to think about the following week, whether it’s pipeline, scripting. And then the weekends, I’m doing a lot of scripting and whatnot.
For me, a lot of it also is if I can batch the work. I think it really is helpful, especially for content. You probably feel the same way.
Andrew Chen 32:40
Yeah. I’ve started doing that. It doesn’t take less time to actually create the content, but once you’re in the zone, it comes out a lot faster.
Ernest Shahbazian 32:54
Yeah. So I feel the same way because, for example, when I’m setting up the videos, setting up all the stuff, it takes time. That could take 20-30 minutes to get the right setup.
Andrew Chen 33:03
Totally. You mentioned that there are blogs and other influencers that you follow to get inspiration and just to stay up to date on trends and stuff like that, credit cards, travel things. What are some of your favorite ones or the ones that you follow most closely?
Ernest Shahbazian 33:19
I think on the YouTube side, I listen to two podcasts pretty regularly.
One is the Video Creators Podcast by Tim Schmoyer. And Tim Schmoyer is like a YouTube expert. He’s been in this space forever.
And he has a lot of information on what you should be thinking about as a creator, things that would take you to the next level, versus just creating videos.
Being strategic about things and even just being a content creator and video entrepreneur. I think he has a lot of great advice.
On that note, there’s another one called the TubeBuddy Express Podcast. That’s a shorter podcast.
I think the guy who runs it, his name is Dusty Porter. He has a lot of great information as well, as to improving things on your videos.
Very tactical kind of information as well, like how to deal with burnout, how to deal with horrible comments that you get on your videos, things like that. He’s been very helpful.
Andrew Chen 34:16
How do you deal with that?
Ernest Shahbazian 34:18
It’s tough. I still struggle with it sometimes. I’ll wake up and I’ll look at my comments and I’ll see something that’s really rude or offensive.
Andrew Chen 34:28
Can you fire those users?
Ernest Shahbazian 34:32
You can block them if they’re really egregious. I think you can block them on YouTube. YouTube has a weird blocking system too.
So you can block them. It’s like a shadow block. They don’t know they’re being blocked and they still see their comment on the thing, but no one else will see their comments.
So it’s almost like they can continue to troll you without you even realizing that they’ve just been trolling you.
But it’s hard. That’s really tough for me, I have to say. And that’s something that I’ve been trying to work on is to have a thicker skin and realizing that there’s always going to be people who hate and who are just going to be critical and be rude.
And I think getting back to the podcast and resources question, I do listen to a lot of Side Hustle School as well. I really enjoy that podcast by Chris Guillebeau.
In fact, when I started my whole adventure in entrepreneurship, I read one of his books, “Born for This,” I think it was.
And that was really helpful because I really liked his idea of taking something that you already know and are familiar with and not trying to build a business that’s going to change the world initially.
Because I think when I first started, I was trying to create an app and I was trying to do all these interesting things. But those are things that are outside of my normal expertise, so I don’t really have a lot of knowledge in that area.
And also, they’re really big ideas that require a lot of funding.
So Chris Guillebeau, his book was basically like “Just focus on something that you like, and think of how you can monetize that and make it something interesting.”
So for me, that was very helpful. And I love his Side Hustle School because it always gives me inspiration for “That person is doing something very similar. What are they doing?”
I get a lot of inspiration for ideas on how to better be an entrepreneur and manage my workflow.
Andrew Chen 36:16
For sure. So I guess with that in mind, what are, say, the two biggest lessons that you’ve learned through doing all this?
You’ve done this now for a couple of years. What would you advise your younger self knowing what you know now?
Ernest Shahbazian 36:34
I think for me, if I could go back in time, I would say, “Don’t be afraid to be more focused or niche with your content.”
Not that my channel is bad, but I think what I’ve done is I’ve created too wide of a net in terms of my content.
So now I have people who are really into credit card points and miles. And then I have people who don’t want any of that. They just want to know travel tips.
So I’ve created little segments of my audience, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes it hard because I never am able to create a video that satisfies everyone. It always feels like I’m satisfying certain segments of my audience.
And then I always have people who are like, “Oh, I wish you would do more content like this” or “I wish you would focus more of your attention on this.”
So if I had to do it again, I think I would focus more on just specific target audiences. So maybe I would just be a points and miles channel, or just focus on travel tips, something like that.
So I think when I was starting out, I was thinking, “I don’t want to be so focused. I want to cast the widest net.”
Especially if you’re a content creator, I think actually being more focused is a better thing because you have a more targeted audience. Your audience will enjoy more of your content.
So that’s one thing I wish I could go back and tell myself.
And then the other thing too is I think I would have spent more time thinking about the scaling issue because I think a lot of what I do is very stuck on me doing it. I haven’t really thought about how I can make things a little bit more scalable.
And now that life has become more busy, it’s harder for me to now backtrack and say, “I want to outsource parts of my operations to different people.”
So I think when you start out, you want to be really lean and you want to always focus on trying to reduce your operating costs. But now that we’re generating enough, I really should have been thinking about how I can outsource parts of it so I can be less in the business and more on the business, because I think that’s one of the things that I have not done very well is I’m still very much in the business.
And in order for me to grow and to scale, I need to be on the business and thinking about things strategically, where I want to go, and the kind of things I want to do.
Andrew Chen 38:49
Yeah, that definitely makes sense. And to that end, what are the plans for the future?
Ernest Shahbazian 38:55
Definitely scaling. I’m actually looking at different editors right now to see if I can outsource parts of that.
And one of the hardest things is I feel like the editing is like my secret sauce, so it’s hard for me to give up that part of it. But it’s also the part that takes up so much of my time.
So if I want to scale and produce more content, I have to be able to give up the editing and some of the other aspects of the business, like even writing a blog post. All those little things that take up time, I definitely need to be thinking about outsourcing that out and finding people who have more expertise in that area and utilizing those skills.
So for me, it’s like starting to build a team. I want to start building a team so that I can really grow it. And I think otherwise, I’ll just be stuck to one video a week and then I’m not going to be able to really grow the channel like I want to.
Andrew Chen 39:44
Gotcha. All right. So, rounding the last lap here.
I’m curious. Since you focus a lot of this on your channel, your one best credit card tip and your one best travel tip.
Ernest Shahbazian 40:00
For credit cards, I definitely think that for a lot of folks who are starting out in the game, they go really fast. They start getting a lot of credit cards.
And then what I see with a lot of my consultations is that people then realize, “Oh, I wish I didn’t apply for that card. It was an okay bonus and I got excited by it, but in the long run, it doesn’t really support my strategy.”
So I always tell people, “Think about your strategy and what you want to do,” whether that means investing in flexible point programs like Chase or American Express, or even thinking about what your needs are.
Because I feel a lot of people get credit cards that don’t necessarily match up to their spending patterns. So it’s really thinking about how you’re going to use things. Whether you want to go cash back or actual points or even a mix, really think out how you want to do it, so that you’re not wasting time on cards that count against you in the long run.
Chase has some very difficult rules around getting credit cards. And if you’ve maxed out, if you’ve already gotten six applications in the last two years, you may be ineligible to get some of their credit cards. So I see this so often with people.
I tell people, “Always think long term. Think strategically. And then really spend the time to think about what you want to get out of it.”
And another thing too is that I feel a lot of people get really focused on the point values as well on redemptions. And I always tell people, “Hey, you could waste a lot of time doing that.”
If you’re spending hours doing that, then you’re actually probably negating the value of your redemption because you’re taking up your own personal time.
And I’ve been in the same boat. I’ve spent hours trying to find one that offers me half a cent more redemption.
At the end of the day, when you’re vacationing on points and miles, you’re not going to be thinking about the extra half a cent that you got in your redemption. You’re probably just going to be enjoying your vacation.
So I tell people, “Don’t get hung up on it.” Even if you’re not getting the best redemption, that’s still probably a lot less than you would have been spending if you had just paid for it in cash. So that’s, I think, a really big thing.
In terms of travel, I think the biggest mistake I see from people when traveling, there’s a couple of things that come to mind. But I think for me, I see a lot of people getting really focused on the currency side. When I talk to a lot of folks, they’re always focused on trying to get currency when they’re going to different places.
And I’m always like, “Don’t worry about that stuff.” Just go to the ATM and get an ATM card that can reimburse you for withdrawals. And just use that as your currency machine and don’t use the currency booth.
I’m trying to think of other things. I know there’s a bunch of other things that I always tell people.
You caught me off guard now. Now I’ve completely blanked out as to what to do.
I think also trying to use credit cards when you’re traveling. I think a lot of times, I see people who are trying to use cash.
I think credit cards are actually a better way to go, especially if you have one that can reimburse for foreign exchange fees. I think it’s actually safer because then it’s like you have a layer of protection when you’re actually traveling.
A lot of these are actually connected to credit cards.
But think of your insurance options when you’re traveling. It’s funny because right now I work in a health-related job or role and I see a lot of people who are traveling, who get stuck while traveling because they get a major injury and need to be transported back to the U.S.
And some of them, what I’ve read is they thought that they had evacuation coverage for it, but they don’t actually have evacuation coverage.
So it’s just thinking about your risk and reward for when you’re traveling.
If I’m traveling in the U.S., I may not get travel insurance because I don’t really need it or I think my credit card can probably cover me.
But I think if you’re traveling to places where you might be a little bit off the grid or you may not have the infrastructure there, really thinking about the risk that you’re taking. And if it means getting travel insurance and that kind of things, it can be really useful if something does go wrong.
And it’s not very costly. The last time I traveled to, I think, Cambodia, I got a $30 or $40 option for the week. In case something would happen to me, I could get medically evacuated back to the U.S.
So things like that I think are pretty useful.
Andrew Chen 44:40
Do you have any company recommendations for that?
Ernest Shahbazian 44:45
Honestly, I would recommend people shop around. I do have a link on my website to one that I partnered with. I think I partnered with World Nomads, but I think there’s so many out there that have options.
So I don’t actually think there’s one that’s better than the other. They all pretty much work the same. And you should definitely look up different insurance companies and see what options are out there.
Andrew Chen 45:09
Got it. Well, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us today, Ernest.
Where can people find out more about you and your business and what you’re up to?
Ernest Shahbazian 45:17
I’m primarily on YouTube. So if you want to look up Trip Astute on YouTube, you can find my channel.
I also post on Facebook. And then, like I said before, I also have a website that mirrors a lot of what I produce on YouTube. It’s just more in written format.
So those are the three primary areas.
I’m also trying to build up some Instagram and Twitter and all that stuff. But I would say if you’re literally looking for me, you’re probably going to find me on YouTube first, then my website, and maybe on Facebook as well.
Andrew Chen 45:44
All right. Thanks so much again, and I look forward to seeing what you produce next and where you go next.
Ernest Shahbazian 45:49
Thank you so much for the opportunity to be on your show.
Andrew Chen 45:52
Thanks so much. Take care.
Ernest Shahbazian 45:54
Okay. You too.
Andrew Chen 45:56
All right. That’s a wrap. I hope you enjoyed today’s entrepreneur/solopreneur interview and got a lot of insights from it.
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