Building a Niche Podcast and Newsletter Through Free Content with Jeff Utecht

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Imagine being perfectly positioned to deal with the pandemic from a k-12 school’s standpoint. That’s Jeff Utecht. Instead of just being in the K12 space, he specializes in technology implementation for K12 schools. But he didn’t just fall into that. He spends years building a brand, understanding his audience, and giving away content. How has that helped him? Listen to find out! Plus, we get deep into education during the pandemic in Build Something More.

Top Takeaways:

  • You create great content by understanding your niche and your audience. Jeff and his team know what their audience is asking, and created content to answer those questions.
  • Their podcast is a big piece of their sales funnel. Every time they put out a free guide, they do a podcast episode and encourage people to download the guide, which requires an email list. As a result, they have a great list to sell directly to (as well as continue to provide free value).
  • If you’re going to leverage social media, make sure to be where your audience is, and further, find the right hashtags people are following. Doing that allows you to target the right people and grow your audience!

Show Notes:


Joe Casabona: Imagine being perfectly positioned to deal with the pandemic from a K–12 schools standpoint. That’s Jeff Utecht. Instead of just being in the K–12 space, he specializes in technology implementation for K–12 schools.

But he didn’t just fall into that. He spent years building a brand, understanding his audience, and giving away content. How has that helped him? Let’s find out.

Plus, in Build Something More we get deep into education during the pandemic. I want you to look for takeaways about creating great content by understanding your niche, that having a podcast is a huge piece of your sales funnel, and how to best leverage social media.

You can find all of the show notes for this episode at And I want to thank this week’s sponsors, Nexcess and LearnDash.

I also want to let you know that for the next couple of episodes and perhaps intermittently through the end of the year, I’m going to be recommending podcasts right here instead of having a preroll spot. So right before the intro right after this open, you’re going to hear about a podcast that I recommend and I’m excited to tell you about it. So definitely stay tuned for that.

So let’s get to the podcast recommendation, and then the intro and the interview.

[00:01:34] <music>

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Named the best publishing podcast by LA Weekly Feedspot and Kindlepreneur, Entrepreneur Publishing Academy is your fun weekly lesson that will show you why a book is the best business card and how to make and maximize yours.

You can get a link in the description or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:02:33] <music>

Intro: Hey everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast where you get free coaching calls from successful creators. Each week you get actionable advice on how you can build a better content business to increase revenue and establish yourself as an authority. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Now let’s get to it.

[00:02:53] <music>

Joe Casabona: Jeff, how are you today?

Jeff Utecht: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on, Joe. Appreciate it.

Joe Casabona: My pleasure. Thanks for coming to the show. We did a little bit of a podcast swap though we didn’t like call it that. We just both kinds of felt like we had the ability to help each other’s audiences. So I’m really excited about this.

Jeff Utecht: And I think that’s a great way, you know, is like just tip number one, if you’re into podcasting, you know, anytime you can do that type of thing… Like your episode just came out. Thank you for doing that, talking about podcasting and podcasting resources for educators and students who might want to get involved. Seeing that we’re focused on education, specifically K–12 Education, I think you just had some great insight.

So if people want to go listen to that, they can head over to Of course, you can find Shifting Our Schools anywhere you can find a podcast. So, thanks, Joe.

Joe Casabona: I will link that in the show notes over at That’s the episode number for today. So all of the show notes and everything we talk about will be over there. So let’s dive right into this.

I think the first thing I want to ask you here is about building a successful brand. You just gave a sentence or so about who your target audience is. If I’m starting out in my business and I want to create content, I’ve always found that being too general, if you’re talking to everybody, you’re talking to nobody. How did you figure out who to talk to and who your target audience is?

Jeff Utecht: I’m an educator by trade. I was a fourth-grade teacher, and I’ve been an educational consultant since 2009. So I’ve already been kind of doing this stuff for a long time. So my audience really was built into those that I was already communicating with and doing consulting work around.

And when we decided to start Shifting Our Schools, it was that point though. You’re talking about narrowing down your audience. If I just say K–12 education, there are literally over a million educators just in the United States.

Now we think global at Shifting Schools, right? So we have Canadian teachers, Australian, and New Zealand, I work a lot with international schools in Europe and Asia. So really our audience is a global audience. And I think most people have to be thinking about that, right? Like, it’s not always just US-centric. Your audience might be US-centric. But a lot of times, especially with podcasts, you know, you can get outside of that and be thinking about that.

So for us, the first thing was thinking about, “Okay, we have millions of K–12 teachers. But within that, there’s only a small segment that actually listened to podcasts. And within that small segment, what are the ones that we’re really after?”

Now, my focus has always been tech integration. So we’re focused specifically on K–12 teachers who are interested in technology, who are interested in using technology with students in their classroom, or are administrators who might be rolling out a new technology plan at their school or instructional coaches or technology coaches who are hired by school districts to support.

So we’ve taken this really broad audience and we’re really trying to focus and narrow it down to a very specific niche within the K–12. And that’s really where we try to focus our efforts.

Of course, from there it always then expands back out. Our idea is, is if I can get a principal to mention one of our resources at training or send one of the resources out via email to the rest of their teachers, well, now we have more teachers. So our idea is to start with this little niche inside K–12 and have that niche help expand our audience for us. So that’s kind of our approach.

Joe Casabona: I like that a lot. And it makes sense. ConvertKit is a brand that I really admire. And Nathan Barry the founder and his team did that as well. I don’t know if they use this language, but I’ll use this language. They’re the email service provider for creators.

But they didn’t just say were for all creators, right? They created separate landing pages for musicians, for podcasters, for online course sellers. And then they individually reached out to each of these audiences and did what you just said—reach a couple of them, get them to promote to their audience of musicians or podcasters. And that’s how they grew.

And I think that’s such a great idea and great plan to execute because when you talk to, you know, people say the ideal customer avatar or whatever, but you’re, you know… Kara Chase is… Well, this is a little episode out of time thing because her episode is coming out after this one but we recorded before.

She talks about picking like an arbitrary name and gender and age. That’s like just total guessing most of the time. But like saying, “My target audience is K–12 teachers interested in tech, and who want to improve the tech in their classroom. Now you get to talk directly to those people.

I say I help any podcaster make money, but secretly everything I talk about is kind of focused towards speakers, authors, and educators because that’s what I am. I know the language that they’re using. But then if they’re like, “Hey, this guy helped me. Maybe he can help you even though you’re none of those things.” That’s kind of the same plan.

And it sounds like you figured that out because you were kind of entrenched in the space, right? Fourth-grade teacher. So you have actual K–12 experience. And then you served as an educational consultant, so you understand the questions that those types of people are asking, right?

Jeff Utecht: Yeah. And I think that’s where a lot of our content comes from. You know, a lot of our content comes from… I’m still consulting today. I keynote conferences, I go and do workshops and professional development days.

And a lot of our stuff comes from, you know, I’ll go and spend… For example, I just spent two days with pre-service teachers at a university. I teach a university course for those that want to become teachers. And I’ve got six episodes. Because here are teachers… they’re going to be teachers. They’re graduating I think in December, and they’ll be teachers in December.

And they have these great questions. And so I’m jotting down these questions that are all going to become episodes where I can go out and I can find an educator or I find a Joe or I find somebody that I’m like, “Hey, I’ve got this great question that educators… Like this is on the mind of educators. Can you come on my show and help me answer this question?”

So I’m always looking for questions. I think that is another great tip. Like if you’re going to be a podcaster, whatever realm you’re in, or you want to start a business, what are the questions that people are asking? And how can you help answer those questions?

The journal is not here. It’s still in my backpack because I just got home. But I actually have a journal I carry around and I’m constantly writing down like, “Oh, that’s a great question.”

And then you start to see topics start to come up. Like all of a sudden things start bubbling up, you’re like, “Man, these four questions are pretty much the same question.” If that happens, you’ve got a pretty good episode or you can make a free resource to help answer that question, which is what we do a lot of times. And that’s how you start to get traction, right? My wife’s a school counselor, and the thing she tells me every day is, “Don’t forget to listen.” It’s such an important tool.

Joe Casabona: Don’t forget to listen. I like that a lot. And it’s easy to kind of get random emails from people. Especially I come from the developer world and the people get a lot of… new developers will send questions that’s like, “Can you look at this code and help me rewrite it?”

Those kinds of things I think almost train freelance developers or other people in that same situation to not want to answer those questions, right? Because now you’re asking me to do what I charge like 150 bucks an hour to do.

But moving into the educational space or the general business space, you want to know what questions people have, what problems they’re trying to solve because your product, your service should be a solution to a problem.

And I think this was one of the hardest lessons I learned. Because again, as a developer, I was always like, “Oh, yeah, this is the latest technology. This is the best LMS plugin for WordPress.” People who want to sell online courses, they just want to sell them. They don’t really care that this is the best plugin for WordPress. They want to know, “Can I build the course I want to build with this tool?”

Jeff Utecht: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. We try to listen as much as possible and we try to create those resources. If there’s one fault that we have at Shifting Schools, we give away too much free stuff. And we’ve been told this over and over again. If you go over to under our resource library… If you’re an educator, you’ll get it. If you’re not, it just looks like a bunch of random stuff.

But we have like over 60 free PDF guides. We call them plug and play. They are actual lesson plans that teachers can download. And over 60% of those have come from either emails or a tweet that teachers have. There’s a ton of teachers on Twitter. That’s where a bunch of educators hang out.

And we’ll get these questions like, “Hey, I’m looking for a resource on X, Y, and Z.” And if we don’t have it, we make it, we upload it, and we give it away for free. Now, when I say give it away for free, of course, you have to give us your email to download the free PDF. And now we’ve got you on our newsletter list, which is really what the free stuff is about.

But we’re constantly giving away free stuff. We make, I don’t know…. we must make a new free guide to something every other week.

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Jeff Utecht: We’re constantly building it up.

Joe Casabona: Let’s dig into that really quick. And then I want to circle back to… I think a lot of creators worry about giving away too much for free. Especially if you’re in the knowledge exchange space, like if I tell you everything I know, why would you pay me for anything? I have thoughts around that. But let’s talk about the creating a free guide every other week. First of all, do you have a team of people?

Jeff Utecht: Yeah, I have one other person at the moment. My team fluctuates based on where we are.

Joe Casabona: Okay.

Jeff Utecht: It’s summertime right now and teachers are on holiday. So everything like our podcast numbers sinks, everything sinks in the summertime, especially in the month of July when we’re recording this.

So I do have one person. I have our creative content person. She’s also an educator. So she speaks the language. She understands what is going on. She’s the one that’s pumping out the guides. She’s getting the podcast guest. She’s running all of our social media, and kind of just keeping things going.

And then we meet once a week and say, What are the questions that we’re hearing coming up? And where do we want to drive the conversation for next month?

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. So I guess the real question I was asking was like, do you have like 10 people so that you have one person working on a guide per month or whatever? But you have one person.

Jeff Utecht: One person.

Joe Casabona: What’s her process like? You said she’s an educator, so she probably understand what you’re doing pretty well, like you said. And maybe she doesn’t have to do a ton of research. But maybe she does, right? How does she find the information to put together the guide? Where does she write the guide? Is she using like Canva or QuarkXPress?

Jeff Utecht: We’re big Canva users. And I think that’s the other thing with your free guides is we went into Canva and we spent a lot of time with another friend and colleague of mine who’s kind of part time, but mostly does it for free. She’s out of New Zealand. But she’s really into design. So she designs our website and she designs our color schemes and our logos.

So one of the first things we did is we went into Canva and we bought a pro account in Canva. Once you do that, you can create your branding kit. And the branding kit, then, you know, you can put in your logos and your brand colors.

And again, this all comes down to recognition of your brand. And so all of these free guides look exactly… Like you know when you’re getting a Shifting Schools guide. So we rely heavily on Canva. Everything is put into Canva. So everything is coming out, it looks the same, it looks professional. My content creator, she loves Canva.

And then her process is usually… I mean, she’s just amazing to start with. She’s just an incredible creative person. But she does. She’ll go out and research. She can find some different links, usually videos or articles to pull together to put for links inside of a PDF.

She’s an educator, so she knows how to create really good lesson plans. She has the content knowledge. And I think that’s really important. Could I go out and hire a VA, a virtual assistant to do this stuff? Yes. Do they know education? No. When I’m in a knowledge place… education is a knowledge economy, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Jeff Utecht: These teachers are looking for knowledge. It’s a knowledge economy. I need somebody that understands that. I need somebody that understands that. If I need plumbing done, I don’t go and hire a lawn maintenance person. I need a plumber.

We have to remember that. I love VAs. When things get out of control, I will hire a VA to do stuff. But there are specific parts of your organization, there are specific parts of your company you need a knowledgeable… like somebody who knows depth of that knowledge.

You know, you use the idea of a web developer, right? You have to know code. You’re getting emails because they know you know code.

Joe Casabona: Right.

Jeff Utecht: You can’t just go ask somebody, “Hey, look at this code.” There’s knowledge that’s needed there. So there are some things like, you know, have a VA. There’s a lot of great stuff you can do. But when it comes to building content, you need somebody with that understanding so you make sure you’re talking your audience’s language. It’s so key.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And to that point, I have a VA. She’s great. She’s going to use my Canva template to make the imaging for this because that’s a very clear process, step by step. One of the mistakes I made early on, I set her up for failure here because I thought I could just tell her to do something and it would get done. But the type of VA she is not that.

So I said, “Just find a bunch of conferences for me to speak at. Like I want to speak at… You know, I talk about podcasting and WordPress, or whatever. And like most of the conferences she found were like… she found conferences, but they weren’t good fits or they already happened. And I was like, That was unclear direction and that’s very subjective, right? Just like I’m not going to ask her to find the pull quote for this conversation.

That’s something that I’ve got to do because I’m having the conversation. I know what’s the most impactful. Once I find that she can make the audiogram or whatever or make the extra content. I think that’s really important.

I’ll have a link to the show notes to Canva. I’m a big fan of Canva to. Again, with the caveat that I have another conversation coming up where we’re like, the tool matters less than the actual doing it. If you’re comfortable in Photoshop or whatever-

Jeff Utecht: Do it.

Joe Casabona: I’m not saying go learn Canva. I’m just saying I suck at Photoshop and Canva is really easy for me. So that’s awesome.

Now, to circle back, you said you give too much away for free. I did look at those guides. There are a ton. And it’s not just like, you know, top five learning management systems. Like the first one I saw was a podcast for Pride Month, right?

Jeff Utecht: Right.

Joe Casabona: I would have never guessed. Like you said I’m not in the K–12 space. I would have never guessed. I also went to… Not to get dicey or anything but I went to Catholic school, so we probably wouldn’t have had that topic in school anyway. So you’re right. That’s super niche content and it’s behind… not a paywall. You gotta give your email address, right?

Jeff Utecht: Right.

Joe Casabona: What does your funnel look like? You have this great content, people get onto your mailing list.

Jeff Utecht: So our two main funnels, like just looking at our statistics, it comes from our podcast. So in our podcasts, every time we launch a free PDF, every time we launch a free guide, there is a podcast episode talking about that guide.

So for example, that one. So June is Pride Month. School is usually ending here in the United States in June. So we wanted something that was simple, something that teachers could use. Here’s a bunch of podcasts that are geared towards middle school, high school, or we believe that middle school, high school kids could comprehend and have some conversations around.

So the guide is, Here are links to some podcasts and here are some questions as a teacher that you might want to have follow-up conversations with your kids. I mean, that’s really what the guide is. We’ve done all the searching for you. We’ve found the podcast, we’ve come up with the questions, you just need to deliver it in your classroom.

So we do the podcast episode, saying, “Hey, we’ve got this new free guide. Here’s what it looks like. Here’s some of the questions that you’re going to have conversations around in your classroom. If this interests you, head over to and download the free resource today.” We get a lot of traction going from our podcast to our free guides aka our mailing list.

The other thing is, is knowing where your audience is on social media. There’s all kinds of social media out there. But you need to know where your audience is. I have two different companies actually. I have my K–12 company, which we’re talking about now. Teachers are on Twitter.

To our best of knowledge because I’ve been on Twitter… I’m twittered number like 132,000. Like I’ve been on Twitter from the beginning. Like before there were smartphones Twitter.

Joe Casabona: You could like send a text message to Twitter.

Jeff Utecht: Yes, I did. I texted messages on my little flip phone in China. But the thing to know is that, for some reason, that is where teachers hang out. My K–12 teachers hang out on Twitter. To the best of our knowledge, there’s over a million teachers on Twitter.

So we don’t spend a lot of time on TikTok. We’re starting to talk about TikTok because there are teachers are starting to move that way. But we don’t have a lot of teachers on Instagram. Teachers use Instagram for personal stuff, not professional stuff.

So we need to hit teachers where they’re at. So we get a lot of traction by saying, “Hey, new free guide,” on Twitter. And we put it out through the Shifting Schools Twitter account, we put it out through my personal Twitter account.

And because I’ve been on Twitter for a long time, I’ve got a pretty good educational following. I think 20,000 followers, which in education is a pretty good number. So we get a lot of traction from that. Now, if I didn’t spend that time in Instagram, I wouldn’t see that traction because that’s not where they’re at.

Now, my other business is real estate. My wife and I have a real estate investing business. I also have a podcast that I just started around real estate in the state of Washington. We talked about niche. Just the state of Washington.

But what do I know about real estate? They don’t hang out on Twitter. They hang on to Instagram because everybody loves to show pictures of “Here’s the house, I flipped. Here’s the house I bought. Here’s the house I sold.” So I spend no time on Twitter when it comes to real estate, because that’s not where my audience is. All of our time and focus is on Instagram.

The message here is, is there’s a million different social networks. Don’t try to do them all, especially when you’re starting. As you grow and you grow a team, you can do them all. But when you’re starting, know which one your audience is mostly using and really hone in on that one, whatever that one happens to be.

But you got to do a little research and you got to know where people are. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time making TikTok videos for people over 65. It’s just not gonna work, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Jeff Utecht: I mean, it’s cool, and it’s fun, and you’re hip because you’re 28 and you’re starting a business, but that’s not where your audience is. So you got to do some research and understand where those are.

So those are our two main funnels. Our podcast and our social media are aimed towards our free content aka our mailing list. And from our mailing list, we go out to our online courses in consulting.

[00:23:59] <music>

Sponsor: This episode is brought to you by LearnDash. Look, I’ve been making courses for a long time, I’ve taught at the college level and I’ve created curriculums for several different organizations, including Udemy, Sessions College, and LinkedIn learning. When I create my own courses, there’s no better option than LearnDash.

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[00:25:06] <music>

Joe Casabona: A lot of people, especially in the creative space are like, “You gotta get on TikTok. Everybody’s on TikTok. You gotta get on TikTok.” I’m not the most data privacy-centric person, but I’m also like, I don’t know about TikTok. I’ve been really hesitant-

Jeff Utecht: Yeah, me too. Me too.

Joe Casabona: And I don’t know that my audience is there. So like you said… You know, this is a lesson I learned when I was working at the University of Scranton. I felt like all major universities are like really slow to move on anything and Snapchat was just getting big or whatever.

And so I said, I said, “You know, we’re trying to get new students or whatever. How come we’re not on Snapchat.” And the VP of public relations said, “We’re not on Snapchat yet because we’re not convinced it’s going to help us because it might feel more like your dad coming to the house party.” Right?

Jeff Utecht: Oh, true.

Joe Casabona: “And we don’t want that. We don’t want that associated with the University of Scranton brand.” And I’m like, “Damn, that was a good answer.” I thought I was like nailing to the wall. 27 knowing everything, of course. So I thought that was a really good answer, and it makes sense.

I did look at when you joined Twitter. The month before me. I thought I’d been on there for a long time. I joined on April Fool’s Day 2007. It’s still the greatest April Fool’s joke ever played on me is joining Twitter. I’m super active.

But if I had to guess I think most podcasters are active on Twitter, especially in Twitter spaces. Like I should do that more. But I thought, like, “Should I Instagram? Should I TikTok.” I’m not convinced that I should yet. So I think that’s really great.

So once people are on your mailing list, you do have paid products, I assume, right?

Jeff Utecht: Yeah, we have online courses that we run and we’ve got both… Well, we were running a lot of synchronous, like live zoom session type of things. But really what we’re moving to now is a bunch of asynchronous stuff.

So basically, we’ve recorded the videos ahead of time. Online courses. You record the video ahead of time and people can either download them or go to our website and view them there on the website.

And really what we’re pushing towards is trying to get back because the pandemic and K–12 really, and that’s a whole nother topic, but just turn the thing upside down. And trying to get back into the consulting space. Because before the pandemic I was traveling 200,000 miles a year supporting teachers and doing all that. We’re just not back to a place where they’re bringing in consultants yet.

So it’s trying to figure out like, how do we get, you know… It will come back, but in this meantime, how do we navigate and still support teachers and still be relevant in a space?

Joe Casabona: Absolutely.

Jeff Utecht: So those are the two things: our online courses and then consulting work that we do.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha. And I’m thinking and Build Something More maybe we can talk about the pandemic and how it impacted K–12 and how it impacted your business, especially because you’re at the intersection of K–12 and technology. Does that sound good?

Jeff Utecht: Yeah. I’ve got some good stories for you. That’ll be good.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Well, if you want to hear those stories, you can join the Creator Crew over at There’ll be a sign up link there. And it’s 50 bucks a year. That’s less than five bucks a month. I pay five to six bucks for an iced coffee when I go to a coffee shop. So lots of free content, ad-free extended episodes, live stream replays, and lots of behind-the-scenes stuff. Again, that’s

So something I’m really curious about because I tried… One of the first businesses I started that failed because I didn’t understand anything was a website-building platform built on top of WordPress for high schools. I built it on top of WordPress. So like my first problem was the GPL. Like I couldn’t have a license for the code, I could only have a license for support.

And I guess the other major problem was that it was 2008, 2009 when I launched this business. So no one had money because there was a recession. But I felt like selling a value proposition. Especially in grammar schools, high schools… And again, I’m most familiar with Catholic schools who have even less money.

How do you position your paid products? Do you get the schools to pay for them? I know like a lot of teachers have to pay for their classroom supplies out of pocket and stuff like that.

Jeff Utecht: Exactly.

Joe Casabona: How do you account for that?

Jeff Utecht: I think this is really good for… Again, we’ve failed more times than we’ve succeeded. One of our models at Shifting Schools and just me in life is fail fast, fail loud. I actually stole that from an employee at Amazon here in Seattle. It’s the way he runs his company. Fail fast, fail loud.

And that’s what we do a lot at Shifting Schools is we try stuff all the time. And when it fails, we celebrate it. We’re like, “Oh, my gosh, we just spent $1,000, building a course that nobody’s bought. Yaay.” And then we try to figure out why. And then it’s like, what happened?

That is a lot of what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to position ourselves now into moving from teachers paying for individual courses because teachers don’t have a lot of money and they’re asked to buy for a lot of stuff themselves. And what we were finding was in order to sell any of our products, we’re down to like $15 for an online course. Well, 15 bucks, I need to sell like 1,000 of them to even break even. You know what I mean?

Joe Casabona: Right.

Jeff Utecht: Like you’re driving to the bottom dollar. And if you’re racing to the bottom, you’re not going to win. So we are starting to change our strategy where we’re putting together a group of online courses that a district can buy.

And this is through trial and error, because we tried to sell directly to teachers and it just wasn’t going anywhere. And so we are trying to get to that district level because districts have funds that come from all over places. The state has different funds that they can only use on specific things.

And right now, after the pandemic, we know that every state, thank you to the federal government, has specific funds on professional development, specifically on technology.

Joe Casabona: Nice.

Jeff Utecht: So we know there’s this bunch of funds that has to be used that way. So our goal is, is like, can we package four or five online courses that we can then deliver to a school district, a district buys for all of their teachers? And then you buy a site license, or it’s, you know, $4,000 for all your teachers or whatever the price is. So that is where we’re headed. But it’s been a lot of trial and error.

And the other thing is to know is just like, again, we know educators want free stuff. If you’ve ever been to an educational conference, it’s like one of the worst places. Because if you’re going to set up a booth in an educational conference, you better be giving away free pens, free squishy balls, because educators will take everything free that you give them.

And that is also why when people come to our website, they’re like, “You give away a lot of stuff for free.” But in my community, that’s how you build trust. People are willing to give over their money if they’ve gotten 60 things for free? I’ll give you five bucks for that one. I mean, this sounds bad. But you almost guilt your audience into it. And we’ve probably all done this. Right? Like I use Cyberduck. Is that the FTP?

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Jeff Utecht: So I’ve used that for years. And at the end of it, every time it’s like, “Donate, donate, donate.” Well, five years later, I’m like, “You know what, I could donate.” They guilted me into it. I use their product, it works great for me, it does exactly what I needed to do, “Here’s five bucks. Here’s 10 bucks.”

So we use that same kind of model. We give a ton of stuff away for free because what it’s doing is it’s building trust with my audience. So then when I’m saying, “Hey, this resource is going to cost you $15,” they’ll hand over that 15 bucks. And I can get $5, $10, $15 out of a teacher. By the time it hit 20 bucks, most teachers are like, “That’s too expensive for me.”

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Jeff Utecht: And so we have to move to that other side of trying to get districts to pay for this. But the goal then is is if I can get you you’re a teacher in the school, and I’ve got you bought in and you’re a super fan of us, and you’ve got all these free resources, and all of a sudden I say, “Hey, hey Joe, I’ve got this set of five online courses that your district can buy for all of your teachers that aligns with everything you’ve seen. And you send it to your principal and your principal cuts to the check, your principal looks like a hero because all their teachers got these core resources, you feel good and I get paid.” So it’s building that trust with your audience.

In education, it’s all through free stuff. We give away free books on the podcast. It’s free, free, free, free. It’s the only way to get to the hearts and minds of an educator these days.

Joe Casabona: I mean to be fair, it’s tough. Especially K–12 educators are not paid enough. And they do have to pay for stuff out of pocket, right? Like WordPress community is where most of my stuff was targeted for a long time and they feel the same way except like you’re building like a technology business. Like you’re building a business, you should be willing to innovate like 1,000 bucks in a cohort-based course to help you make more money.

The value proposition is different in your field, right? Because you can’t necessarily say, “Hey, if you pay 500 bucks for my course, you’re gonna get a salary increase of more than that.” You can’t say that.

Jeff Utecht: Exactly, you can’t say that. I think targeting a K–12 audience is one of the hardest audiences to target, which is why there’s so many edtech companies that go belly up. I mean, there are so many ed tech startups, you know, technology startups that are trying to get into the K–12 space. It’s a really tough sell. It really is hard to get it. There isn’t a lot of money there. I mean, there is, there’s billions of dollars. But you’re talking billions of dollars spread over 10 million kids. It’s not a lot of money when you start really working numbers.

Joe Casabona: Which is why it’s even more important to understand your audience, right?

Jeff Utecht: Absolutely.

Joe Casabona: Because you were a K–12 teacher, so you know how to find the money, essentially. You know the buying psychology. Just one more point on this. Your free content is good content, which I think probably tells people, “They give away so much for free. If they’re charging for this, it must be really good.”

Jeff Utecht: Exactly. It’s at least as good as the free stuff.

Joe Casabona: Right. Right.

Jeff Utecht: And it’s probably better. You know, because the paid stuff actually has videos of Jeff, just not Jeff’s audio on a podcast. Like you get to see Jeff, and you get to hear Jeff’s excitement and you get to hear this principle and that teacher who’s used the resource. You know, you get all these extra bonus things.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. So my last question here as we’re coming up on time is it looks like you’ve got these self-paced courses, team-paced learning pathways. And then it looks like you also might offer coaching. It really feels like lately self-paced courses are falling out of favor maybe, and what people are looking for are cohort-based courses or group coaching programs. Are you seeing the same thing in the K–12 space?

Jeff Utecht: Yeah, people want to connect. I mean, it’s human nature. People want to connect. I think we saw the asynchronous kind of self-paced thing come and go. Not saying that it’s not valuable, not saying that there aren’t people who are intrinsically motivated that will still do those. But what we are seeing is we’re seeing the cohort model. I think mastermind is the new big word for basically a cohort model. Like well put together a mastermind group, which is basically a cohort of learners.

I mean, we change the name and make it sound cool. And it’s the same thing we’ve been doing for a long time. But we’re seeing that. You know, we’re seeing that those are things we want. We do a lot of stuff around the Google platform, Google Workspace. I am a Google Certified Partner.

Joe Casabona: Nice.

Jeff Utecht: So that gives me some access to that. One of the things we’re doing this summer with some things that are happening at Google is we’re putting together this group of courses that are all around using the Google workspace in schools, which is great for us. I mean, part of the reason we have a Google Certified Partner on my end is I think we’re running right about, I want to say around 80% of all schools in the US use Google.

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Jeff Utecht: So they’ve got a huge hold inside of K–12. And so knowing that, knowing I’m a Google Certified Partner, you know, we’re making these group of courses that are going to be both what you’re talking about. We are going to run a cohort where if you want to come and you want to meet with other educators around the US and around the world and go through this work together, fantastic. You could expand your network, meet other educators, make connections, wonderful.

But if you are a school district that maybe just went Google or your teachers could use a little upping on their Google skills, the district can buy this set of courses, you can then pay your teachers inside your district, which a lot of districts will, they’ll pay teachers, you know whether… It’s not usually a salary bump, but every time you finish a course you’ll get like 50 bucks or boxers $75, whatever it is.

So we’re trying to use the same set to do both things with. So we’ll see. Fail fast, fail loud. We’ll see if it works. But that’s kind of our strategy this summer.

[00:39:27] <music>

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[00:40:24] <music>

Joe Casabona: We’re in this transitional period, right? The way I’ve been looking at it kind of is from my friend Chris Badgett who runs LifterLMS… I guess I should say like full disclosure here their competitor is a current sponsor of this episode, but whatever. Chris has coined this term for me at least, which is just in time learning. And with like a self-paced course, that’s what you get, right? You’re banging around in Google and you’re like, “Oh, man, how do I like set up that classroom site again?”

Jeff Utecht: Exactly.

Joe Casabona: “Let me go to this course and watch that.” Where the cohort-based course includes a little bit more accountability, live training. You can ask those questions in a way that even with like the better community management tools we’ve been seeing lately, people when they have a question about the thing they’re learning, they probably want it answered then. Like they’re in that context.

So if one of my students takes a programming course and then they ask a question, and I don’t get back to them for 12 hours, they’d be there already figured it out on their own and so my input is kind of useless. Or they like left that context and maybe they’re discouraged. So I think I like the cohort model. I’m trying it out myself.

Also, maybe I’ll beat you into answering this question too a little bit. Which is something I heard so much that always kind of cut against my core belief is, oh, yeah, an online course is passive income. Like you just set it up, and you walk away and it makes money.

Jeff Utecht: Yeah, right.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right.

Jeff Utecht: Especially in the technology world. There might be other places you that I could do that, but…

[crosstalk 00:42:18]

Jeff Utecht: I’ll use Google as an example. Again, I’m a Google Certified Partner. And I love Google and I freaking hate Google. Because as soon as I create a video saying, “Hey, here’s how to set up this in the Calendars,” they switch the button, they switch the color of the button, and you have to make the video again. Like it’s constantly trying to update that stuff.

So that is where it’s not as passive as it seems. And I just use that. But you know, and anybody listening to this that’s in the technology field, man, if you’re trying to do online courses, it’s not passive. Like you’re trying to keep up with every little change that is going on. It’s really, really rough.

The other thing I think we’re at, and you talked about this, we’re in this really interesting place after the pandemic. And I don’t think this is just an education thing. I think we’re in this really interesting place where we are sick and tired of being on Zoom, whether you were working from home, or in my case, educators are sick and tired of being an online. Like they went online for hours during the pandemic trying to get kids to do stuff.

So we’re in this really interesting place that even if I tried to set up a cohort online, nobody wants to spend more time on Zoom. But we’re not feeling safe enough yet to go to an in-person workshop. So I’m really struggling, and I’ll be completely honest, we’re really struggling with this idea of, Okay, we can’t get people to come on time because people don’t want to spend another hour on Zoom. They really don’t. They are tired of technology. They’re tired of being on Zoom. They just want to be back with their kids. They just want to be back in person. So then we tried to offer a weekend workshop, nobody shows up, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah.

Jeff Utecht: So we’re caught right not between this we’re not quite out of the pandemic to where people feel safe being around strangers, a lot of strangers in a close proximity, at least here in the Pacific Northwest and we’re sick and tired of being online. And so we’re kind of in this…

You know, one of the things I love about these kinds of moments is this is when innovation happens. How do you innovate around these challenges? You just look at outside of education. Where are we as society? I was just reading an article the other day that I think it’s all state insurance only has 1% of their workforce that is coming every day back to their office. 1%.

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Jeff Utecht: So they’re struggling. Like only one person is coming in every day. I think it was The New York Times article. I can send it to you if you want it for the show notes. It’s pretty cool.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jeff Utecht: Like 37% are coming in once in a while and then the rest of them are all working remotely. So even corporations and companies are still trying to figure out how in the world do you run a business when you have… And we’re all in this, right?

It’s such a messy time, which is messy and frustrating. But if you’re an innovator, man, there’s something that’s going to come out of this. And I don’t know what it is yet. But there’s something that’s going to come out of this that we’re going to see some things move.

And I think that to me, as an entrepreneur, same thing. Like I’ve started and crashed more businesses than I count at this point. But I love that. I love trying to figure out, what is that thing? What’s the magic key?

Joe Casabona: Solving that problem. And I mean, you’re right. I mean, look at Apple. Apple is the most lucrative country… company. Country. I think I read something like if they were a country they’d be like in the top 10 for like GDP or something like that.

Jeff Utecht: Something like that, yeah.

Joe Casabona: But they’re the most lucrative company in the world. And they have tried half a dozen times to come back and then stopped. And then they finally just said, you know, Anybody who doesn’t need to be in person doesn’t need to be in person for the foreseeable future. Not even they figured it out.

Jeff Utecht: Here in Seattle, I mean, there’s all kinds of articles coming out here. I am based in Seattle. You know, we’re very tech heavy. We’re like number two to San Francisco now. And they’re still struggling with commercial real estate. Like people just aren’t coming back like they thought they would commercially.

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Jeff Utecht: Residential, people are moving back into the city in rows. But commercial, they’re still at like 53% or something. And we’ve got Google, Facebook, Amazon, of course.

Joe Casabona: Microsoft.

Jeff Utecht: Yeah, Microsoft. Everybody’s still trying to figure it out. So I think as an entrepreneur, if you don’t have the answers yet, that’s okay. I don’t think the world has the answers of what the future looks like yet. We’re still trying to figure it out. You know, keep your nose to the grindstone and keep trying things. Fail fast, fail loud, and celebrate your failures because that’s how you learn and the next thing might be a hit.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure. I’m gonna say this on the show knowing that it’s not going to come out for several weeks. So Jeff is the only one who’s hearing it. But it just occurred to me that I’m in the podcast space, maybe audio-only live audio is the way to do it. You get that online learning but I can be outside sort of thing.

I mean, this is a really… it’s not even half-baked. It’s like a quarter-baked idea. But private podcasting feels like a good place to kind of fill this need. Because people are sick of being in front of their computers. And I’m a computer person, so I’m always in front of it. And that didn’t occur to me. But you’re in the classroom.

Jeff Utecht: This is one of the things we’re playing with is we call it podcast PD-

Joe Casabona: Oh, love it.

Jeff Utecht: …where if we can do a bunch of podcast episodes, because one of the things we’re constantly talking about, one of the things we talked about as a company, is if you get on the phone, you win. If you get on the phone, you win.

And podcasts are the easiest thing to have on a phone. And to your point, if I can give you some professional development, if I can give you a course where you’re standing in the grocery line, watching the kid at soccer practice, and I can have one earbud in and I could be learning something, anywhere anytime, that’s to me I think has something. We’re playing with it. We haven’t figured out the secret sauce yet. But I do think that there is something there, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely.

Jeff Utecht: It’ll be interesting to see.

Joe Casabona: I’m getting ideas. I love it. Well, Jeff, this has been such a great conversation. You’ve given us so much already but I do need to ask my favorite question, which is do you have any trade secrets for us?

Jeff Utecht: Any trade secrets for you? I think the only trade secret I have is when it comes to social media, know that it’s all about the hashtag. And I don’t know if that’s a trade secret or not. But specifically in education, when we’re doing things and we can use that free guide that you were talking about, the podcasting for LGBTQ plus for Pride Month. You know, know your hashtags.

It’s one thing to send out a tweet or to send out an Instagram post on your account. It’s another thing to know exactly where that audience is and what they follow. So for us on Twitter, it was #PrideMonth. And just by doing a tweet and adding #PrideMonth, you’re in a different community. Those people don’t follow us. Those people don’t even know we existed, “And here’s a resource for you if you want it.”

So one of our trade secrets is to know your hashtags. Spend time researching what hashtags are people using, what communities have, and what hashtags have really large communities. And then figure out, Okay… Be very specific. You don’t want to hashtag everything. But two or three really good hashtags can really propel your content out there to new audiences that might not know you exist. And I don’t know if that’s a trade secret, but it’s something we use all the time.

Joe Casabona: I mean, it’s great. I personally don’t think, you know, except on Instagram, right? I think, Oh, yeah, blah, blah, blah, like this hashtag, whatever. But I don’t use enough hashtags on Twitter, for example, and that’s where most of my useful social media content lives. So a quick follow-up question. Do you use something to do hashtag research?

Jeff Utecht: What do you mean? As far as like for us to do research on…

Joe Casabona: Like a tool. There’s like Ahrefs or whatever—full disclosure, former sponsor—for like keyword research. Is there a tool for like hashtag research?

Jeff Utecht: I don’t know.

Joe Casabona: Actually I’m able to answer this question as I’m asking it.

Jeff Utecht: Okay. I don’t know if there is one. Is there one?

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I use Tweet Hunter. I’m a big fan of Tweet Hunter. And they have analytics and recommendations. I’m certain that there’s some sort of hashtag thing.

Jeff Utecht: Probably.

Joe Casabona: Super interesting, though. I mean, I’m sure they exist, but that’s really… So how do you figure out which hashtags to use, I guess? Maybe that’s the real question.

Jeff Utecht: I mean, that one, for me is easy. I’m in the educational space. I’ve been in this educational space for a long time. You just know what they are. I mean, for me in education, if we have resources aimed at elementary teachers, it’s hashtag elementary chat. Everything’s chat in education.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha.

Jeff Utecht: E-L-E-M Chat. That’s where all elementary teachers hang out. But then there’s Kinder chat, first-grade chat, second-grade chat. And they’re all hashtags. So we have a resource that is specifically for kindergarten, first and second grade, and we put those three hashtags in.

Joe Casabona: Gotcha.

Jeff Utecht: And only those teachers. So we are targeting specifically. If it’s an ELA resource, boom. If it’s a social studies resource, boom. #SSchat, which is social studies education chat. We know what those are and we go at them.

The other thing to know is… I mean, I don’t know how kosher this is but every conference has a hashtag. There’s a big edtech conference called ISTE that has like, usually about 20,000 educators go to the conference, and the hashtag blows up during the conference.

During the conference, we use that hashtag. Hey, here’s a new free PDF, #ISTE22. And everybody that’s following that conference, whether they know us or not, is going to see that tweet because they’re following that hashtag to get the most out of that conference.

So if you have conferences that you know are specific to your audience, you could also use those. When the conference is happening of course. Once a conference is done that hashtag is gonna puff flies away.

Joe Casabona: Right, goes away.

Jeff Utecht: It’s like a way to get new audience members.

Joe Casabona: And you’re tweeting usefully, right?

Jeff Utecht: Yeah. Exactly.

Joe Casabona: It’s not like you’re just spamming, like, “Hey, listen to my podcast,” right?

Jeff Utecht: Yeah, no. I

Joe Casabona: It’s like, “Hey, you’re educators-

Jeff Utecht: It’s free stuff.

Joe Casabona: And it’s free stuff, yeah, which people are already primed to get at conferences as you mentioned before.

Jeff Utecht: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Joe Casabona: Love it. Jeff, this has been such a great conversation. If people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?

Jeff Utecht: So to learn more about me, you can go to my personal website is I’m @Jutecht everywhere on socials. And then the company website is So that’s it. That’s where you can get us.

Joe Casabona: I will link to all of that in the show notes over at You’ll also be able to join the Creator Crew over there. And it’s going to be a good post-interview conversation about how the pandemic affected K-12 and technology. It feels like Jeff’s the good person to talk about this with. So ad-free extended episodes and more, Jeff thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Jeff Utecht: Yeah. Thanks for having me on, Joe. I appreciate it.

Joe Casabona: And thanks so much for listening. I am always thankful that thousands of you tune in to all of these episodes. I love it. Thanks to our sponsors, definitely check them out. And until next time, get out there and build something.

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