I’ve been following Don McAllister for many years. He’s been on several of my favorite podcasts and he’s been a pioneer in the Apple community with his online tutorial (aka, Screencasts). He was one of the first people that I learned was doing online training through his screencasts. In the interview Don shares how hard it was to get started “back in the day” and how easy it is today to get up and running.
Download The Bonus Audio: “Don McAllister’s Top Productivity Tools”
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- Don found something he was interested in and started
- He found a need and filled it
- He needs to be disciplined in his business to create balance
- He is good at learning the software’s key benefits and dispels them into videos that teach a beginner through pro
- It’s hard to get your voice heard for beginners. The key is to build an audience
Download The Bonus Audio: “Don McAllister’s Top Productivity Tools”
Click Here to Download
Find Don Here: ScreenCastsOnline.com
Have a question for the podcast?
Jeff Long: It’s my goal in these interviews to bring you different people doing different things. We may talk to somebody in the university level that’s doing e-learning in some capacity. We may talk to somebody that’s doing some innovative online courses for artists. Then we have somebody like Don that’s doing some really cool screencast type videos as well as he’s taking this a step beyond that. We’ll talk about his online university, his online magazine. So there’s ways to once you create that content to use it in different places or to serve people in different ways beyond just maybe an online course or a screencast.
Keep coming back. I want to make sure that you don’t think that we’re only going to be targeting a certain type of online course, but we’re going to learn from the gamut because I think there are ways we can learn from every different type of person that’s doing online courses and e-learning and screencasting. That’s why I wanted to bring Don on the show here today. I know you’ll learn a lot from him and I can’t wait to hear what you learned from this interview.
I want to alert you to something that I’ll give you more information at the end of this podcast. But just a little teaser here. I asked Don something that I think you’ll find really interesting. He has a big business. He does a lot of things, a lot of moving parts. I asked him what are some of the productivity tools that you use to run your business. I know you’ll love his answers and you’ll love his apps and his suggestions and actually put that in an extended audio version that you can download for free on the site. Go to onlinecoursecoach.com/Don to download that for free, and you can learn what productivity tools Don uses and I know you’re going to find a lot of value in that.
Go to the website, check it out. Again, I talk about it later in the podcast towards the end, but I wanted to make sure you got that information so you can get that bonus free audio. I could talk on and on about this interview, but let’s just get into this interview with Don McAllister. All right, I’m here with Don McAllister of Screen Casts Online. Don, thanks so much for being on the show here.
Don McAllister: Oh thanks for the invite Jeff. No really, I appreciate it.
Jeff Long: Like I said off air I’ve been listening to you for many years, and I know that you actually got started around 2005, 2006 doing these online tutorials, screencasts. You were one of the first ones. Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got to the point of starting there in 2005.
Don McAllister: Yeah, sure. Well to most people surprise it was actually 2005 that I first discovered the Mac, because before then I was actually a PC guy. I was working in corporate IT for many years and I’d lost my mojo. I used to really enjoy playing with computers. I’ve never really been exposed to Apple Macs before because in the UK where I’m based to be honest the penetration around that time and earlier was very limited. It was literally just high end design studios which have access to Apple gear. In the olden days I was a Windows guy, but I just lost interest in Windows.
Then I stumbled across Steve Job’s keynote. It must have been Macworld keynote in 2005. It was during that keynote I mean I had no idea what Apple was all about, no idea about what software they ran. In that particular keynote they covered iPhoto, iPhoto books, they covered some of the software. Then at the end of the keynote they actually introduced the Mac mini. As I went through the hour long presentation I was getting more and more interested in the things they’re talking about.
Then the Mac mini was launched and it seemed very affordable. I already had my keyboard, I had my monitor, so it seemed a fairly low risk investment to give it a try. It took a couple of months before they came to the UK. But when actually got the Mac mini I was hooked within a couple of days, actually started using the Apple. In the course of a couple of weeks I became an evangelist and I thought it was really, really good. It brought back the enjoyment of playing with computers and exploring and learning new stuff with computers.
The genesis of how I started to do the Screen Casts was basically I wanted to show some of my relatives who also were thinking about getting the Mac, and one of them actually did. I wanted to show her how to do some of the basics. I created a few mini videos for them. That was the start. Round about 2005 as well podcasts had really just come onto the scene. I was quite interested in podcasts. I would start to follow a couple of podcasts and I quite fancied the idea of doing a podcast.
My initial thought was to do like a Mac newbie type podcast, but when push came to shove I sat down, I got the domain name sorted out, I understood how RSS worked and everything, but when it came to press the button and start recording I just had nothing to … It was weird. That was just going to be like an audio podcast. I shelved that. Then the realization that, “Well, hang on,” once I’ve done those couple of videos I could actually … It’s digital media. I could distribute these videos as a podcast. That was the start of it really. I started just to push out a couple of screencasts as a weekly podcast and it snowballed from there.
Jeff Long: Man, that’s great. It reminds me how I got started with some teaching online stuff. Very similar to you I saw a need and there weren’t really any training videos on this topic. I’m like, “Man, if I’m struggling with this I’m sure people who don’t have as much experience or knowledge are just floundering without it.” I think that’s great. It’s that finding a need.
Don McAllister: Yeah, and also the technology. I mean I always enjoyed the technology. I’ve done a little bit of video production just on a hobby basis. But this was something new. This was doing the screen captures and using the iMovie at the time I think it was before I upgraded to Final Cut Pro and just learning how to put it together. Of course it’s a whole … Doing the screencast is something quite different because you’re describing what you’re seeing on screen, you are actually demonstrating stuff and talking at the same time. It can take a little bit of an act to get into it, but I really enjoyed it.
The problem was in the early days. It took up so much time like a whole weekend to produce like a 15 minute 20 minute screencast because people sometimes don’t appreciate just how much work goes into actually generating one of these online video tutorials.
Jeff Long: Sure. Yeah, I know. I can attest to that. I think you brought up another good point of you wanted to start something, whether it’s audio podcast, video podcast. You bought the domain name, you sat down to record that audio podcast. It sounds like you just, the excitement wasn’t there, the passion, something wasn’t there. Explain that. Why did you go away from that? It just feels like you weren’t hitting the nail in the head?
Don McAllister: Yeah, I think I just wasn’t … I’d focus too much on the technology and the backroom stuff without giving a lot of consideration as to what the content would be. When it came down to actually giving the content it wasn’t quite there, so I had to in effect go back to the drawing board but I’d lost enthusiasm by that point.
Jeff Long: I’ve done the exact same thing. To the listener, focus on the one thing you absolutely have to do. If you’re like most of us, we have all these ideas and we want to start them all and we see people like Don who’ve had some great success, but if you’re not passionate about it, or good at it, or interested in it it doesn’t much how much money you eventually make. You’re going to be miserable.
Don McAllister: Oh yeah, yeah. No, it’s got to … It is, and especially in the early days a labor of love, because that initially it was a free podcast. All these hours I was putting in I was quite happy to just give away the content, and knowing that people were enjoying it and people were benefiting from it because I was getting feedback from people saying, “Hey, this is great,” et cetera, et cetera.
Jeff Long: So where are you right now? I know you create. Is it two episodes a week or is it more?
Don McAllister: Yeah, no it’s two episodes a week. I do. I started about probably 18 months, two years ago. I split it from just a single show each week to a separate Mac and iOS show. Although I say separate they are very much as time goes on becoming more and more intertwined. But I do 30, normally around about 30 minute Mac show and 15, 20 minutes iOS show each week. That goes out same time, normally on a Friday. Very occasionally I push it back to the Saturday but I try to keep it as regular as possible on the same day same time release.
Jeff Long: Now since you create regular content each week, how do you brainstorm for topics? How do you find what’s a legitimate video you want to do versus when you just through away or put on the shelf?
Don McAllister: Yeah, the problem I have is that to do like half an hour’s worth of content it needs to be something that you can delve into at a certain level. It has to be something that I’m particularly enamored with or something I enjoy using, and also something that I think by sharing it other people will get benefit from it.
Now sometimes it’s a struggle, sometimes I’ve got more stuff coming at me than I want to do with, so it’s very fluctuary. I mean the last couple of months I’m pretty much restricted to doing the new versions of the operating system. We’ve had OS 10 Yosemite came out so that’s a big piece of work. IOS 8 has come out as well. So probably the last two months have been really focused on those two updates.
But then there’s plenty, there’s plenty of new Mac apps coming out. There’s different types of topics as well that people like me to cover. I do take requests and suggestions from the audience as well. They get some input. But I don’t plan too far ahead. It’s very much two or three weeks maximum, unless I’m actually got an extended period of travel or something when I have to prepare lots of stuff in advance. But I try and keep it fairly contemporary, fairly up-to-date so that I can be very flexible so that if something comes out that I think is worthy of an immediate attention I can do that this week or next week.
Jeff Long: What are some lessons you’ve learned along the way. I know that’s such a broad topic or a broad question because so many directions you can go, but what are some key lessons you’ve learned about yourself, the process, or even your audience throughout these years?
Don McAllister: I think one of the big things people always ask, because I work for myself, I work from home, I have my own setup, is to be disciplined really. Because I still although you could quite easily be very flexible about the hours that you work, I tend to have a very strict regime of a proper workday, a proper workspace. I do break that real occasionally by taking my laptop and watching the TV instead of working and stuff like that. I’m sure everyone does that. But just set up a regular regime and get into the work mindset.
But it’s very flexible because I am working from home and I do control my own destiny. I have more flexibility than I would have in a normal nine to five job. But again, you can’t let that go too far. You have to discipline yourself to make sure, especially when you work into such a strict schedule of regular content each week, you have to be fairly disciplined and hit certain milestones throughout the week to make sure that the end product is available at the end of the week to the paying audience.
Jeff Long: That I can definitely understand. I have some people I know that did come from the corporate environment and they’re used to bosses and managers and people telling them what to do. Then they come into their own, they’re their own boss or their clients are their own boss and it’s hard for them. Discipline is a big deal. I’m glad you brought that up.
Now I’ve heard some things about your screencast. Well let me back up. ScreenCasts Online is your main website. That’s where you’ve been doing these screencasts for years and years and that’s where you do these two shows. But now you have ScreenCasts Academy. What is it and why did you create ScreenCasts Academy?
Don McAllister: Right. Well it’s really a bit of an experiment. The issue that I have is that I’m producing all this regular content and the people who do sign up as members really enjoy it. But a membership type system or weekly content isn’t for everybody. Some people just depend on [inaudible [00:12:55] which is fine. Some people religiously watch each show each week when it comes out. But some people aren’t really although they may be interested in their Mac or their iPad or their iPhone they’re not really that interested that they actually want to see 45 minutes worth of training material each week.
The academy was really setup to see whether or not there would be some opportunities to repackage some of the training that I’ve already done in discreet modules, so that I mean the one that’s currently on there is for the iWork suite of applications. It’s a single purchase. You just buy that particular course and then you get access to that course and then there’s no ongoing commitment. You’ve got access to that course for as long as you want.
Then overtime I’m hoping to bring in some more courses like OS 10 Yosemite and the iOS 8 stuff that I’ve just completed, bring them into the ScreenCasts Online Academy as a separate purchasable product. It’s really to target those people that don’t want the ongoing commitment of a membership but would still like to have the occasional chunk of training for specific topics.
Jeff Long: That’s great. I love that you’re trying new things, trying different things and listening to your audience because that’s who you’re serving as well.
Don McAllister: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jeff Long: You want to make them happy.
Don McAllister: Yeah. The problem being though that it’s a very small production. Although I do have people helping me on the post production side now, it’s still, it’s very much I do the bulk of the work, so it’s quite difficult to keep the weekly stuff going and to experiment with other things. But it’s been fun. I’ve been using WordPress to set up the site and a few plug ins and using Vimeo to distribute some of this, the videos. Again, I like that sort of thing. I like to try new things and to keep abreast of what’s going on.
Jeff Long: Don, would you consider yourself an educator, a technologist, or something completely different?
Don McAllister: That’s a good question actually. I don’t know really. I suppose a bit of everything. I don’t think I could pigeonhole myself into one particular area. But, yeah, probably more. I don’t know. I do keep abreast of what’s going on. I mean I do as well as the training stuff I do, guest post on various podcasts, what I pontificate or do a bit of punditry. I quite enjoy that now and again. It’s a bit of everything, but the ScreenCasts Online is my main focus. I suppose really if you have to pin me down with something I suppose it would be an educator.
Jeff Long: That’s interesting. Maybe an “technologycator”.
Don McAllister: Yeah.
Jeff Long: Whatever the combination of technology and educator. The reason I ask that question is because that was one of the things I was drawn to, one of the reasons I wanted to bring you in is because I do look at you as an educator. As I told you before we recorded I’ve been listening to you for years. I love all the Mac based podcast you’ve been on and it’s fantastic. But like you said, the core part of who you are and who your business is is this education screencast which is great.
Don McAllister: I always get some good comments from people. It always fascinates me that there is no typical audience member. I have people who are elderly, I have people who are brand new to the Mac, I have real Mac heads who’ve been Mac users for many more years than I have been. Yet, each one seems to be able to take what they need from the screencast. It might be someone’s been using an application that I’m covering. They might have been using it for three or four years. Yet, they will still take the time to sit down and watch the screencast and they will feedback that, “Hey, I use the application all the time, but I found at least three four different things that you brought up that I hadn’t appreciated,” which is great.
That’s the sort of thing I’m trying to do. I’m trying to … Because they’re only short. They’re only short screencasts. They’re not like lynda.com or something where you have like six hour tutorials on the pro apps. These are half hour tightly produced really. I don’t really waffle too much. At least I don’t think so.
I do sit down and work out the structure of what I want to cover. It might run on for two or three episodes if it’s particularly complex application, but I just want to pull out the nuggets of interest that people might have to give them a base level of knowledge and also a level of confidence so they can go ahead and explore the application further. But invariably these little snippets or these little gold nuggets pop out and people latch onto them and appreciate that.
Jeff Long: I think that’s definitely a skill to quickly consume how a product or a software works and then dispel it into language that people can understand and get value from.
Don McAllister: Yeah. Very much so because that’s one of … People often ask, “You know what, how do you know all this software to the level that you seem to know it?” The truth is I don’t really until I actually sit down and start working at how I’m actually going to cover that week’s topic. At which point I probably go into it in more depth than someone would normally do.
But that’s the benefit. I do some of the heavy lifting and then people that watch the screencast can get the benefits of that. But I am able to go in and within half a day pull apart an app and understand how it works and then formulate in my head how I would put some of these topics across to people.
Jeff Long: What advice would you give to somebody who just wants to maybe start out creating a course or … ? Not that they want to copy you, but you’re doing a good job. You’re one of the industry leaders. There is such a growing market. What advice would you say to somebody that’s thinking about this, or maybe they already have a course and they want to up their game?
Don McAllister: It’s really difficult. I mean when I started the landscape was quite different now in that there weren’t that many sources of tutorials that you could get on the internet. Whereas now you’ve only got to go to YouTube and you’ll see tons and tons and tons of stuff. There’s lots of vendors now who have set up shop and selling courses at such and such. I think the difficult thing for people now is to get their voice heard, is to really just make themselves visible to people. I don’t particularly know what the answer is, but I think that’s the major problem for people these days. Obviously you’ve got your social media and stuff like that, but it’s really hard to get the word out basically.
Jeff Long: It kind of boils down to what Michael Hyatt talks about in his book “Platform”. The tagline of his book is how to get noticed in a noisy world. It is about building your platform, whether it’s through social media or blogging or whatever that system is that’s the key. Whenever I talk to beginners that are wanting to create courses and teach people and help people, that’s one of the key things we talk about, is the marketing and what’s your platform. Because it’s easy to look at you and be like, “Wow, Don’s doing a fantastic job. I want to be just like him.” Well you know how much hard work …
Don McAllister: Oh yeah. It’s taken eight years to build it up to where it is. In the early days I couldn’t survive with just the membership system. I had to do other things as well. That’s probably another thing that I learned early on is trying to do multiple things at the same time. I did some sponsorship arrangements with vendors of popular applications. Now people didn’t know me but they knew the app and then I did the tutorial for that app, and it was on their website and people started to get to know me that way. I do not so much for my show but I might actually do a commission screencast for a software vendor, and again, they would put that on their site and that would bring people back to me.
It’s a bit of a long haul to be honest. I mean certainly don’t expect overnight success on this sort of thing. You need to, and again, I think if you’re looking at selling your content online you need to have or you need to demonstrate integrity and reliability and consistency. You always got to produce good stuff, but it’s always got to be there where people expect it. It is a hard slog but overtime if your stuff is good enough you get there.
Jeff Long: It’s like everything else in life that you do, the things that are worthwhile take time and you got to build, take some momentum. Was just talking with somebody today and we are saying that those overnight successes we love to idolize, well they’re rarely overnight successes. They just like decided to look at you and be like, “Oh, that Don McAllister, he’s an overnight success.” You would look at him and say, “No, absolutely not. It’s been a long, long road.”
Don McAllister: Yeah. It’s hard work as well. I mean I used to work in corporate IT. I did my dues, I worked hard there. But when I left the work level shut up. But it’s a different sort of work. It’s more enjoyable. You’re doing it for yourself, you’re doing work that you enjoy so it doesn’t really feel like work. In fact in some instances you have to back off a bit because you’re probably working too much.
Jeff Long: I can relate to that exactly. I love what I do. It’s the best. In fact it’s funny. I was going through Twitter on Friday afternoon. You see people oh can’t wait, TGIF, can’t wait until the weekend. I’m like, “Oh man, the weekend’s coming.” Like, “I’ve so many more things I want to do.” Obviously I love my family, my kids, but I love what I do. It’s a blessing. It’s a true blessing.
Where do you see online courses going in the future? Are we at the beginning, the middle? Are we oversaturated, undersaturated? Or how do you see this landscape of online training and online courses?
Don McAllister: Yeah, that’s another good one. I wouldn’t say we’re reaching saturation but there is so much stuff out there. It takes a lot to get picked up on I think. I think one of the reasons why I think I’ve been so successful or been able to prolong what I’ve been doing is building up an audience who like the stuff that I do and like the way that I do it. So I think a lot of for a want of a better term personal branding or people with a certain way of teaching I think there’s plenty of scope for more and more of those people to be in the marketplace and to find their niche and provide content for their niche. That’s certainly not saturated. I think there’s lots and lots of potential.
The different subject areas as well. I mean my particular subject area it’s always surprised me that in the eight years, I thought initially well I’d start doing this and then there’d be half a dozen other people doing the same thing and it would be a battle. Not really happened to be honest. I mean there’s the big boys, there’s Lynda as I mentioned before and a couple of other larger organizations, but there’s no real other single shop guys doing a similar thing or that I I’m aware of anyone. I’m sure there are, but it’s not in my space anyway. People have tried but they’ve fallen by the wayside.
Jeff Long: You mentioned a couple of minutes ago that you structured some interesting deals with different vendors where you would create a screencast and they would sponsor it. Have you found that a lot of companies are receptive to that? Because I like structuring business deals creatively, and that’s a creative idea. Was it hard to pitch that? Or was it a no-brainer for them?
Don McAllister: It was, it was pretty much a no-brainer because of the benefits they got out of it, because in the early days, I mean to be honest I don’t do it that often now, it’s very rare because I’ve built the membership to a level whereby the membership sustains the business, so I don’t have to do sponsorships or stuff like that or commission screencasts. I can focus on my main day job now.
But what I found was that the hard pitch was that initially nobody knew who I was so that was quite difficult. But by doing a training video they could sponsor a training video. It’d be half an hour worth of content. They could use it on their website. That’s what their top five support issues that they have. I’d work those into the screencast so that they could point people to the screencast to sort a majority of these support issues out. They could use it for marketing if they wanted to, they could use it for customers training. It’s so many benefits to them that I think in most cases it really was a no-brainer for them.
Jeff Long: We do a similar thing with some of our corporate clients where in essence they’re hiring us as a creative agency or a media marketing company, because yeah, the benefits are there. By creating these video tutorials it is a no-brainer. But is just interesting to know who gets it. I’m sure a few of them maybe don’t, who knows. But those aren’t the ones you want to work with anyway. But yes.
Don McAllister: That’s right. The big problem initially that I found, and I still haven’t gotten the answer to, is pricing as well, how to price your services or how to price your content. Very very difficult because obviously you don’t want to undersell it. But again, if you get the pricing wrong it puts a lot of people off, especially with the app economy now with apps pushing prices of apps down, things like that. It gets very complex really. In the early days it was horrendous. I just didn’t have a clue how to pitch it properly.
Jeff Long: Don where can people find out more about you online or your websites or on social media?
Don McAllister: Well the best place to go the main site is screencastsonline.com. That’s where the main membership site is. There are links from there to the ScreenCasts Online Academy. If you want to go directly there that’s screencastsonlineacademy.com. I also have a monthly magazine as well. I repurpose the monthly tutorials in the form of an iPad and iPhone magazine. That’s at ScreenCasts Online Monthly Mag. That’s in the newsstand. If you want to find me on Twitter it’s @DonMcAllister. That’s probably about it. Really I am only Twitter for like virtual water cooler during the day.
Jeff Long: Well Don, thanks so much for being on the show here. I could’ve gone on a lot longer but I want to respect your time and get you out of here. But thank you so much for being on the show.
Don McAllister: I enjoyed it. Thanks for the invite.
Jeff Long: There you go. I knew you would love that interview. Man, I had a great time talking with him. I know that if you’ve got half as much out of it as I did you’re going to walk away from this podcast really excited.
I also have something really cool for you just as a gift, as a thank you. If you go to onlinecoursecoach.com/Don you’ll be taken to the podcast page for this episode and you can download a free extended audio part where I ask Don what his favorite productivity tools are, because Don does a lot of things with his screencast and magazine and online university and all of these things. What are some tools that keep him going, that keep him productive, that keep him streamline, especially with the team that he has. He goes into depth with those tools. Go to onlinecoursecoach.com/don to get that free audio.