Creating Field Guides with David Sparks
I have a confession that won’t be much of a confession once you start listening to this episode. I’m a big fan of David Sparks. I think he does great work in several different areas an I’m excited to talk to him about how he does it. We also both happen to be big fans of Disney and Star Wars. When we spoke, he was just coming off his first ever Sabbatical – so we’ll get into that and how he manages to put out what must be dozens of hours of field guides while also running a law practice.
- David Sparks
- Macsparky Field Guides
- Mac Power Users
- Focused | #104: Sleep and Sabbaticals
- Myke Hurley and Relay FM
- Find the Right Podcast Membership Benefits with Stephen Hackett
- Better Touch Tool
Joe: Hey everybody. Before we get into today’s episode, I want to tell you about my weekly newsletter, Build Something Weekly, which you can sign up for over at howibuilt.it/subscribe. It will give you news updates and insights from me personally on things that are going on around the small business WordPress and podcasting community. You’ll also get the latest content I’ve written as well as takeaways from the latest episode. So if you’re wondering, “Hey, I didn’t get to listen to last week’s episode. What’s the gist?” Build Something Weekly is for you. Go ahead and sign up for Build Something Weekly over at howibuilt.it/subscribe.
Let’s get on with this show.
Today’s episode is brought to you by Yes Plz Coffee, iThemes, and TextExpander. I have a confession to make that won’t be much of a confession once you start listening to the episode. I am a big fan of David Sparks. I was a little bit starstruck talking to him. He is a professional podcaster. He hosts Mac Power Users, which has been going for 10 years. I think he does great work in several different areas, and I’m excited to talk to him about how he does it.
We also both happened to be big fans of Disney and Star Wars. When we spoke, he was just coming off his first-ever sabbatical, so we’ll get into that and how it went, as well as how he manages to put out what must be dozens of hours of field guides per year while also running a law practice. So we’ll get into all that, but first, a word from our first sponsor Yes Plz Coffee.
Sponsors: This episode is brought to you by Yes Plz Coffee. Upgrade your morning with Yes Plz. This fantastic coffee subscription will send freshly roasted beans to your door with no fuss. Pick your size and how often you need beans and they’ll ship you a unique blend of expertly sourced and roasted coffee beans. I’ve been drinking Yes Plz Coffee for a few weeks now and I have been loving it.
Each week I get to try a new blend of flavors that helps me mix up my mornings. And the best part is I don’t have to worry about it. I don’t have to go to some new roasters website, look at all the flavors and wonder if I’m actually going like it or not, and then finally order. Every week, Yes Plz just send me coffee, and it’s new and different, and delicious.
Each shipment even comes with an info card about the beans and some other information, like playlist and extra stuff that I just enjoy getting in the mail with my coffee. So if you’re ready to upgrade your mornings with unique blends of coffee beans, sign up today. Head over to HowIBuilt.it/yes, and use the code HIBI for $5 off your subscription. And don’t worry if you’re going on vacation or you have a little too much some weeks, you can skip shipments or cancel anytime. Again, upgrade your mornings with coffee, great coffee from Yes Plz at Howibuilt.it/yes, and use the code HIBI for $5 off. Fantastic, delicious coffee beans shipped right to you.
And now back to the show.
Joe: Hey, everybody, and welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” I am very excited today to bring you our guest. His name is David Sparks. He is the chief broom pusher at Sparky Media. You might know him from Mac Power Users, Focused, or one of his many field guides. David, thanks so much for joining me. How are you today?
David: Thanks for having me. I’m really looking forward to this.
Joe: So I’ve been a…I don’t know if ‘evangelist’ is the right word. But I’ve been telling all of my friends about the wonders of automating and making a one-man shop into seemingly a multi-person organization. So it’s been a lot of fun listening to you and Rosemary Orchard talk about that stuff.
David: Amen, brother.
Joe: Then, also, before I ask you your first question, I know that you are also a Pen nerd. I am a big fan of the Pen Addict podcast. I thought I’d share with you that the Pen I’m using to take notes today is the Platinum #3776 which is a fancy fountain pen.
David: That’s my favorite. What’s your nib?
Joe: It is a fine nib on this one. I go back and forth between fine and medium depending on the manufacturer.
David: I am not as crazy about pens as Mike is over in Pen Addict. But I’ll tell you, when I found the Platinum #3776 I just love how it writes on nice paper. I eventually got one with a broad nib and an architect grind. And that is like my pen. I just love the feel of it.
Joe: Nice. I’ve been thinking about doing an architect grind, but I haven’t felt adventurous enough to do it yet.
David: Well, one of these days. Get a broad enough nib to get the benefit of it.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Awesome.
David: There we go.
Joe: Perfect. I’ve had both Mike and Brad on the show so I hope they don’t view the competition.
Joe: So before we get into all things creating field guides and online Horses out, why don’t you tell everybody a little bit about who you are and what you do?
David: Sure. I’m a nerd and have been my whole life. I have a particular love for Apple products. I think it really goes back to the original Mac. I was the right age when that computer came out and the graphical user interface. I had been working command line on Apple IIs and other computers, and I just loved the Mac. So I’ve always had this appreciation for it. It’s just a great thing. Apple has had such a great run the last 20 years or so. It’s been real fun.
I’m a lawyer too. I’m a business attorney. So I started out writing articles for some of my friends that had business law websites, and that kind of morphed into something. Then eventually somebody said, “Well, you need to have a website if you’re going to give us these articles so we can have a link.” So then I made Macsparky.com. That turned into really…I don’t really write for lawyers. I just kind of write for anybody who wants to be productive. So that turned into something. And then that turned into podcasts. And then that turned into I did a couple of books for Wiley press. The whole system just kind of grew organically.
Now I’ve got this thing where I make some podcasts. I have a blog and I published field guides. So it’s really a joy, a completely unexpected joy in my life.
Joe: I’m a big fan of your work. I think that everything that you write about, again, over on MacSparky and your various podcasts has helped me become more productive. I can say that for sure. Now, you do produce a bunch of field guides, and I do want to talk about that. But as we record this, you recently took a week-long sabbatical. I wanted to talk about that because a lot of people who listen to the show are small business owners and maybe freelancers, people who feel like they can’t take any extended amount of time off because everything will go down in flames. So I was wondering if we can point people to your other properties where you actually talk in-depth about this, but how did the sabbatical go?
David: We had on the Focus podcast Sean McCabe came on. And Sean is the sabbatical guy. He takes every seventh week off and every seventh year off. It just inspired me because I was feeling really stretched out at the time. I just released another field guide. I was really busy still with the law practice and the other stuff I’m doing, and I just felt like I was stretched out. So I decided to commit on the show to take a one-week sabbatical. I did that like seven weeks before I was going to actually take it with a thought, “Well, you know, I’ll figure it out.” You know how past you always screws over present you?
David: So I did try and figure it out. But as we got closer, I realized, how on earth am I going to do this? I got legal clients that sometimes have emergencies and need my help. I am a solo attorney. I no longer practice with a firm so I don’t have other people I can just push work onto. So it wasn’t a pure sabbatical in the sense that I didn’t entirely shut the world out for a week. But I did manage to have a week that was much less busy than most weeks for me and a lot of downtimes, which for a small business person is critical. It turned out good. But it wasn’t the world’s greatest sabbatical if you judge it on abandon the world and hide in a cave for a week theory.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. I’m feeling the same way. The last time I took a bunch of time off was from my honeymoon. We went to Italy. I didn’t even bring my computer with me which was like a big deal. But I was working for an agency at the time, so it was a bit easier. I had coworkers to foist work on to. On my freelance stuff, I hired my friend to handle any emergencies. But now as we record this, my son is 10 days old… Something like that. And I was like, “I’m going to take the whole month off.” That went to heck pretty quickly, because I have a couple of big deadlines for the end of the month with a book I’m writing and, of course, I’m recording. So it’s hard. But I think I want to make a concerted effort to try to do that. That’s why I got into self-employment.
David: With a new baby, your next sabbatical will be in about 16 years.
Joe: That sounds about right. Though my 3-year-old daughter has been helping where she could which is fun to watch.
David: Big sisters are the best.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. You mentioned that you had just finished up a big field guide. That’s the main reason I reached out to you today because again, I’m a big fan of your field guides. Your OmniFocus Field Guide is the thing that helped me use OmniFocus properly. This whole season of my podcast is focused on content creation, making money through your content, and attracting a bigger audience because of your content.
First, I want to ask, how did you get into the field guides at all? You’re still a lawyer. What made you want to pivot and do tech-based online courses?
David: Like I said earlier, I already had a podcast. Mac Power Users is my biggest podcast. There’s a substantial audience with that show. Then I had MacSparky running. It all started with a plane delay. I spoke in Chicago at the American Bar Association in what they call a tech show. It’s all the legal nerds get together. And I’ve been a speaker at that many times. When I was there, I got on the airplane, the airplane got stuck on the runway.
For some reason, just sitting there with a blank piece of paper, I started thinking, “Hmm, maybe I should just write a book.” So I started outlining a book. In four hours sitting on the runway, I outlined the whole book, and then I started reaching out to publishers and ultimately made a deal with Wiley Press, and I wrote the “Mac at Work” and “iPad at Work” books. This is like, I don’t know, man, seven, eight years ago. So long time ago. But for a while, I had books in the Barnes and Noble. You’d go and you’d see my book on the shelf, which was kind of cool.
But I also didn’t like the lack of…There’s two things really. I didn’t like the lack of control of working through a publisher. I have a quirky voice in my podcasting and writing, and they’re like, “You can’t put that stuff in a book.” I kept hearing that. I also didn’t like the monetary value. I mean, these big companies, tech publishers are really…they don’t treat you like J. K. Rowling, let’s just say that. So I decided, “What if I did this on my own?” And I had this idea of field guides. For some reason, I just liked the concept of it. Even when I was a little kid, I think I had a bird field guide and a camping field guide. I just loved the idea of it.
So I said, “Well, what about tech field guides?” I came up with the idea, and the first one I did was paperless, which released in 2012. At that point, I was still writing books, but I had adapted to the Apple iBooks Author platform. That was new back then. It was an eBook platform that allowed you to embed video. So I really wanted something where I could do sample video. Makes sense?
Joe: Yeah, absolutely.
David: The problem with the books I did for Wiley was I wanted to explain how to do something technical on your Mac, and they would say, “Okay, you get three screenshots.” And I’m like, “How am I going to do this with three screenshots?” Because there’s limited space and printing and all that stuff. So when I went over to the Apple iBooks platform, I could just make a video and show you how to do it. So that made it so much easier. But over the year…
Joe: I was going to say absolutely that makes perfect sense. I’m actually writing an HTML and CSS visual quickstart. I finished all the words, and we’ve allocated space for a web edition, which includes videos. And that really allows me to show them CSS transitions instead of trying to describe them with words, which is super helpful.
David: I mean, it makes all the difference for the user. So I did that for years. I made several books on the Apple iBooks platform. I was very happy with relationship with iBooks. They treat you much better than a traditional publisher. I was in control of it and I could use my voice. It was all great.
But Apple slowly started giving up on the iBooks platform. There really wasn’t anything else out there like it. I started to realize that video was so good, that I was then banging my head. In the Apple iBook store, they had a two gigabyte limit for anything you publish, which equates to maybe an hour and a half of video or so. Even when you start compressing it down, that’s about as much as you could get in. In fact, one of the people at Apple told me that I was one of their test platforms because my books were always like 1.9998 gigabyte. I would literally work to the limit. Every book I end up cutting videos out because I couldn’t get them to squeeze in. And I didn’t really like that.
I realized that more than the words people need the videos for the stuff I do. So I decided I wanted to go to an entirely video platform for the field guides. I did that about two and a half years ago. I switched over to Teachable. That’s my platform now. Now my video field guides are massive. It’s like the OmniFocus when you talk but I think it’s about five and a half hours. I just did one on photos and it’s six hours. So I’m able to just pour it on. And it’s great. It’s been an evolution. But the long answer to your question is, it just kind of evolved.
Joe: Yeah, yeah. Again, I love that journey because I think I’m in a very similar boat. I think another reason I wanted to reach out to you is because I’ve written a few books. It’s very rewarding to see your name on a bookshelf, even if a lot of people aren’t going to bookstores right now. But I’ve also really pivoted into videos. My editor told me this time around that he can kind of tell that I write more for video than for books. He just ripped my drafts of the chapters to shreds, but he’s a lot more lenient on the videos I’m making.
David: Yeah, yeah. I think honestly, too, that’s what people want. If you’re looking at this from a commerce standpoint, I raised the price when I made them video. Nobody really complained. I think people want videos more than they want books. It is weird. I do hear from folks occasionally that complained to me, like, “How come you’re not writing books anymore? I just want the books. I don’t want the videos.” But that’s very rare. The email I get much more often is, “Thank goodness. You’re all video. Now this makes so much more sense.”
The trick to being the publisher is to make it friendly for your user and don’t make a user-hostile experience. Make it as good as possible for them. I feel like with every field guide I release, I’m kind of on trial with my customers. People who bought from me for years, they buy from me because they trust what I’m going to make them I’m going to do it right. If I do it right, I get the privilege of making another one. If I do it wrong, nobody’s going to buy the next one. So I got to get it right every time.
I think Walt Disney had some quote about that once about “We make the movies so we can make more movies.” I kind of feel the same way about the field guides.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Now you’re speaking to me again. I love Walt Disney and Disney World in general. I’m on the east coast. I’m a Disney World guy. I think you’re in California, right? So you’re at Disneyland guy?
David: Yeah, you’re a little misguided, Joe. But I’m not going to give you a hard time about it.
Joe: I will say my brother Robbie is a cast member at Walt Disney World. I think he wants to be the next Walt Disney biographer. Like, write a biography of Walt Disney. So he loves Disneyland a lot more than Disney World because that’s where Walt walked and his office was supposed to be there. I do like the convenience of park hopping at Disneyland more than Disney World.
David: Oh, yeah. The Disney World is like an hour.
Sponsors: This episode is brought to you by iThemes. Did you know that 60% of website breaches occur because a vulnerability could have been patched but wasn’t? That means having software with known vulnerabilities installed on your site gives hackers the blueprint they need to take over your site. Every day it gets harder and harder to keep track of every disclosed WordPress vulnerability. You have to compare that list to your plugins and themes by version and make sure you’re constantly updating.
To solve this problem, the iThemes Security Pro plugin created a better way to protect your site’s against software vulnerabilities, the number one culprit of WordPress sites. The new improved WordPress security site skin powered by iThemes performs automatic checks for known website vulnerabilities and automatically applies available fixes so you don’t have to. That’s some peace of mind. I could speak personally to this because as somebody who has repaired hacked websites, I know that it could be costly and dangerous to lose information, especially when it’s personally identifiable.
iThemes Security Pro also includes a ton of other features to help you keep the bad guys out. Brute force protection, two-factor authentication, password list logins, uncompromised password protection. Plus, a whole lot more to keep you safe. If you want to start securing your sites today, head over to howibuilt.it/ithemes to get the best WordPress security plugin to secure and protect WordPress. iThemes is giving How I Built It listeners a 20% discount by using the code “HOWIBUILTIT” at checkout. Again, that’s howibuilt.it/ithemes. That’s howibuilt.it/ithemes, and use the code “HOWIBUILTIT” at checkout for 20% off.
And now back to the show.
Joe: So you made this transition to videos with the field guides, you have a lot there mostly around Apple products or products that you’ll find on Apple platforms. How do you decide what field guides to make?
David: I’d like to say I have a correct marketing team. I look at things that are interesting to me that I think people need help with. One of my greatest research avenues is the podcasts I make, because I hear from listeners all the time asking questions about stuff. So that does kind of help me get an idea of the temperature. And it’s stuff that I’m passionate about, stuff that I think I can provide a solution to.
OmniFocus is a good example. It’s a very high-end Task Manager app. There’s a bunch of them. I tried them all. Every year I try them all I think, but I always come back to OmniFocus. The reason I made a field guide on OmniFocus is because I understand it, I have a theory about how to use it, and I wanted to share it. I didn’t make one on other competing apps because I don’t feel passionate about them to make one. So it has to be something that I’m invested in, and then something that I can legitimately sit down and make four to six hours of video content on.
Joe: Those of you listening, if you’re wondering what you should make a course about, being passionate is so important. I tried to make a course on how to build a business website with WordPress and I was just like aeon. Like, “I don’t feel like doing this.” I ended up scrapping the project. But if you’re going to do it right, like you said, David, four to six hours of content, you got to be committed to it.
David: Yeah. Agreed.
Joe: What’s your process like? Do you usually…? Let me put it this way. It’s something that you’re passionate about so I suspect it’s a tool you’re already using. Or have you ever thought, “This is something I’m interested in? I don’t know it yet, so let me learn it to make a field guide”?
David: Sometimes I’ll think about interesting products. A good example is a future title. I’m not working on it right now, but it’s going to be out at some point. It’s this app called DEVONthink. DEVONthink is an app that a lot of research scientists use. It’s got artificial intelligence. It can look at PDF documents and draw lines you might not otherwise see. It’s a really interesting app. But it never really scratched the itch for me. Then just recently, they released this version 3 that is really nice to use. It has a beautiful user interface, and they added a bunch of automation tools to it.
So I download it and start goofing with it. I’m like, “Oh, I really like this.” I realized there’s some stuff I could use for my life. I used it for two or three months, and I’m like, “Okay, there’s a bunch of problems I have solved using this app of ways and hacks to use it that people may not have think about. Maybe I have something to say here.” So then I think about, “Well, is this something where I’ll just make a couple of YouTube videos sharing a couple of these tricks I do? Or is this something where now I could really do a soup to nuts field guide on it?” I just kind of came to the conclusion recently: “I think DEVONthink probably needs a field guide.” That’s kind of the thought process.
It’s not that I’d say, “That’s a good one. I’ll make a field guide. I’ll then go learn it.” It’s kind of the inverse. I learn it for my own use and then if I feel like I’m doing enough with it that I could add something to the conversation, then I’ll make a field guide.
Joe: Got you. Got you. I suspect, at least with DEVONthink perhaps your…has your co-host influenced you a little bit? I know that Steven Hackett has been using it. He’s mentioned it on a few of his own podcasts.
David: Well, I mean, just the fact that other friends are using it that probably helped me get to start using it. But really, it just comes down to like, “Can I add something to this or not?” And it has to be meaty enough to merit a field guide. There’s an app out there, BetterTouchTool, which is a Mac app that allows you to do crazy stuff with your Trackpad. I’ve thought about doing a field guide on it, but I’m not sure there’s enough meat on the bones. So we’ll see.
Joe: Awesome. Then once you decide you’re going to make a field guide, where do you start? Do you start with pen and paper? Do you start with a mind mapping app? What does that process look like?
David: Generally MindNode is a mind mapping app I use all the time. It kind of actually depends. I was talking to a friend about this recently. It depends on the nature of the material. When I did the one on the photos, I did it via Mind Map. I guess I wasn’t exactly sure how it was going to fit together, so I needed to put all the words on the screen and start pushing around my finger to figure out what fit. I had a bunch of challenges in that one trying to figure out, “Well do I cover the Mac and the iPhone? And the iPad and how to organize them? The Mind Map helped me sort that out.
Now, the one I’m currently working on is I’m going back to the beginning, the original Paperless Field Guide making a whole new edition of that. A lot has changed the underlying structure but hasn’t in the sense that I feel like Paperless workflow is number one, you have to capture paper. Number two, you have to organize it. Number three, you have to edit it. Number four, you have to share it. So I knew the big four points. So if you’re going to buy the next field guide, that’s the organization. So I knew going in that was it.
So I just made an outline for that one because I didn’t need the open sky stuff you get with a mind map. I knew the general outline, but all the stuff on the inside of those four points was what I had to rework.
Joe: Got you. This is really interesting, right? Because I think a lot of people…I’m going to generalize here. But I think a lot of people when they create educational content, they don’t necessarily look at what’s called the pedagogical aspect of it. Like, how is your learner going to learn? And this goes to the same for people who are like, “I can just learn on YouTube.” You don’t get structure on YouTube. You just get a bunch of videos that are kind of discreet.
So when you are putting together that outline or that mind map well, I guess the outline in the mind map, how do you approach it? How do you think about the learner’s journey as you’re putting that together?
David: Just like I said, I look at everything I produce as Mac Sparky as something with a slow on ramp that climbs high. Every episode of Mac Power Users, in an ideal world is designed this way. Where if you start this material, and you don’t know anything about the subject, I’m going to go slow enough at the beginning for you to get ramped up. Have you ever read a programming book? Programming books are terrible about starting you at 70 miles an hour. They never get to the 10 to 20 miles an hour stuff. 70 miles an hour is great once you’re going 70 miles an hour. But first you got to get there.
So I like to put a nice slow on ramp to get people up to speed. Then I do like to put the 70 mile an hour stuff in there too, but only after we get to it. So every thing I decide is built that way. This morning, I was shooting video for Paperless, and there’s a section in there where I do one video on the basics of folder organization and how to create folders. That’s something you need when you have a Paperless system. But the video right after that is taking everything you learned in the prior video and now let’s automate it. And it’s like all the different tools.
If I just started with that second video, a bunch of people would get left in the cold. They wouldn’t understand. But because of the way I structure it in a perfect world, anybody can watch those two videos in order and go from 0 to 100, and be using those power tools because they learned the basics too. I think I’m kind of rambling. I’m sorry, Joe.
Joe: No, no, not at all. That makes perfect sense. As somebody who teaches programming and has written programming books, I try to be just so cognizant of that. Again, a lot of programmers or a lot of WordPress people, I’m in the WordPress space a lot, and like, WordPress is easy. Just create a post or a page and a beginner is like, “I don’t know what either of those are.” The same thing is with programming. You’re like, “Well, with an IF statement…” You got to back up. You can’t start with IF statement.
David: Yeah, yeah. It’s funny. A very informative moment in my life was when I was in law school, I clerked for a federal judge. I had an internship where I went and worked for the judge. Federal judges have a lot of cases and they have to decide a lot of things. So people submit briefs to them. And the job of the clerks and interns is to review the briefs and advise the judge of their opinions and summarize. We don’t decide for the judge so much as we kind of filter things down for the judge. It was interesting to me.
Because I remember the first day I was there, I went behind the…as a law student in a suit that doesn’t fit me sitting in the backroom of the federal courthouse. And somebody submitted a brief to me and there were two briefs. There was one from a lawyer. And it was a big fancy bankruptcy case, a multimillion-dollar hotel going bankrupt. There was one attorney that submitted a brief that went straight to the most obscure bankruptcy issue you’ve ever heard of. And there was another one who wrote the brief starting with the basics, saying, “This is why and this is blah, blah” He just built his case up to that point.
I remember how convincing his brief was to me compared to the other guys, so much so that I had to stop and say, “Wait, wait, wait, don’t rule on this guy’s favor just because he did a better job briefing. You got to go do the homework for the other guy. But it was the lesson for me. It’s like, okay, when you want to convince somebody of something, or when you want to teach somebody something, make it easy for them and they will go with you. And that was like a hallelujah moment for me when I learned that. It’s always stuck with me.
Joe: I love that. Make it easy for them and they will go with you. I absolutely love that because you’re right. It’s like how they talk about how when you make a grader test, you never start with the hardest question right? Because the test taker will get discouraged and they will probably do poorly even if they know the information because you’re starting them off super hard. Warm them up with a couple of easy ones and then hit them with the important stuff.
David: I wish my teachers knew.
Joe: Me too. I’ve taken too many. I’ve taken programming tests. I have a master’s in software engineering and I’ve taken tests for programming courses where the teacher had me write code on the paper. And I’m like, “Nobody writes code like this. Why do I have to do it this way?” But that was years ago and I’m here now.
David: I remember in law school once the teachers had the test on the board behind the dropdown. He listed in drop down the questions in Latin. I’m like, “Are you kidding me?”
Joe: Wow. Oh my gosh. Well, luckily for your students and mine, hopefully, we’ve learned from the good lessons and the bad.
Joe: Once you have your outline, you start to shoot videos. Do you script your videos? Or do you just have some talking points? What does that look like?
David: It just depends. Actually, the process has changed over the years. At this point, I have actually two people helping me. One person is a really smart video editor. The other one kind of she helps me out with all the admin stuff. So they’re on the team. We set up a Basecamp for the project, where I can start giving stuff out to people to do and I also use a web service called Airtable. The outline gets reduced to an Airtable outline for the course.
David: Which it doesn’t necessarily stay from day one to day end. It’s doesn’t stay the same. It’s a little dynamic. But in general, I have the sections and the video titles and then we have ways to keep track of the status, and if there need to be attachments and it’s the closed captioning. You know, all the various little bits and pieces of each video. So that’s kind of the status board or the project. As I work through it and send things to the editor, I can mark it in the Airtable for him so he can see that he’s got stuff coming in. And then we can also do things like artwork and uploads and admin stuff gets managed on the Basecamp. So I kind of put all that structure in place.
And then I just start shooting videos. I don’t script them out to answer your question, though. I outline them in detail but I don’t script them.
Joe: Got you. I think that makes a lot of sense. I have a hard time scripting because I feel like I sound very robotic. You said you have Basecamp and Airtable. I started using Airtable in part because I think you and Rose might have mentioned it on the Automators. Even the free version has been really great. Do you use the more spreadsheet view? I know you can create like kanban views and stuff like that.
David: I just use the spreadsheet view but we have different views. We’ll have a view for the whole course and we’ll have a view for stuff on the editor and stuff that I need to make revisions. You can create different views within Airtable, even with the free version. We all just kind of click through whatever view we need to see for what we’re doing. And it allows me to see the overall status of the project and where everything is. So that’s something I find really useful.
Joe: Nice. Then, when you shoot the videos, are you using something like ScreenFlow or just QuickTime since you have a video editor now?
David: Oh, no. I guess I should be clear. I do the edits. The video editor checks the edits. Getting professional people, it’s money. And I don’t make so much on these things I can just like can everything else. But I do the edits, but I have an editor that goes through and checks the edits. He always makes them better. He does little edits to makes them better.
The guy has been a guest on Mac Power Users. Jeff. I don’t know if Jeff wants me to give [inaudible 00:37:12]. But he’s a very smart Apple guy too. So he’ll sometimes say, “The way you said that I don’t think that’s really clear.” I mean, that’s frankly, the biggest value to him is just having him critique what I say. But he also keeps me honest, if there’s anything wrong with the edits. And he does fixes.
He’s a master at audio. He always processes the audio to make me sound a little better too. It’s just great having somebody else look at things. I shipped a field guide at one point there was a couple of errors in a couple of videos. Even though I had played them for friends, even though I had watched them, I realized, you know what, “I just need to pay somebody to watch things and make sure that we get them right.” I don’t want them shipping with problems again.
Joe: Yeah, for sure. I discovered a very similar value. I hired a video editor for my last course and the things that he can do quickly that I can’t do it all has been usually helpful. Actually, one thing that I do with my own videos, because I like to switch between camera view and slides, is I use a Stream Deck for that. I think you have a Stream Deck. So I use the Stream Deck for that. That way, I don’t have to give him notes on like where to insert slides or do awkward transitions between different windows or things like that. That has really cleaned up the editing process for him. So now all he really has to do is color correct and if I mess up, I clap my hands so he knows to edit at that point. He pumped out like two and a half hours of video from me for much less than it would have cost me at my own hourly rate.
David: Yeah, exactly. I do the edits in ScreenFlow. I mean, most of mine are very screen intensive. I go on camera once in a while, but not a lot. Because the stuff I’m teaching is really about stuff that happens on the screen. And for Mac stuff, I do it in ScreenFlow. If you want to take another hour, I could tell you what’s great about ScreenFlow and what’s terrible about it. I use it a lot. There are both. Then for iOS, I’ve had an iPhone, I actually just record those directly into QuickTime, or even now I’m sometimes using the built-in recording feature on those devices to do what I’m doing because I don’t trust ScreenFlow to reliably capture those.
They have a thing where you can plug it in, but sometimes it starts and you’ll be looking at device, and you record a 15-minute recording, and look up and it stopped recording it like two minutes and you didn’t realize it. And you want to throw it out your window.
Joe: I’ve used that for like YouTube videos, but I was going to use it in another course I’m working on. But that’s good to know. I will heed your advice on that.
David: So the trick there, record into QuickTime and then take the QuickTime video and just drag it into ScreenFlow. You can still use ScreenFlow for all the cool editing stuff, but just don’t do the raw recording in the ScreenFlow.
Joe: Got you. Then with QuickTime, so the devices plugged into your machine and you could still do the vo on your fancy mic and all that stuff?
David: Yeah, exactly.
Sponsors: Today’s episode is brought to you by Smile and their product TextExpander. Save time typing and boost your productivity with TextExpander. You know I’m all about automation, and TextExpander is a great way to get started with automation. It allows you to create your own snippets for a repetitive text that you tend to use everywhere. Add the text, create the snippet, and boom. Save precious time and keystrokes. One of my favorite snippets is for my address. So instead of typing out my full address and risking typos, I simply type #addr and my TextExpander does the rest, filling in my full address for me. I also have snippets for my street, my city, and my zip code.
I also use it for common links, email messages, which I can completely customize with fill-ins and drop-down menus, and even date calculations. I’m currently writing a book and TextExpander has been instrumental with that. TextExpander is available on Mac OS, Windows, Chrome, iPhone, and iPad. So pretty much anywhere you do computing. If you’ve been curious about trying TextExpander or automation in general, now’s the time. As a listener, you can get 20% off your first year. Just visit TextExpander.com/podcast and let them know How I Built It sent to you. That is TextExpander.com/podcast for 20% off your first year.
Now back to the show.
Joe: I actually do have a question about something I’ve noticed in ScreenFlow, but ScreenFlow support makes it seem like it’s only my issue. Have you noticed trouble with 4K video? Do you shoot in 4K?
David: No, I put everything out as 1080 because it’s going to stream. It just doesn’t make sense. For the stuff I’m doing, 4K is too much for the kind of videos I do but. But that wouldn’t surprise me that they have trouble with 4K. Here’s my one warning. ScreenFlow is listening and they know this because I’ve told them. The application does not render WAV files 100% of the time. I’m totally getting into the weeds here.
Like when you make a video, think about iMovie, you look, you see the WAV file of the sound, right? You see the little bar showing it when a person is speaking. You talked about handclaps, I use mouth clicks. I click my tongue. And I click it between one and four times. Each thing means something different. But when I’m doing the edits, I can just look for the clicks and then…But the WAV form doesn’t render properly, and that makes me insane. But that’s it.
Joe: If ScreenFlow is listening, I will echo that because I find that when I’m editing then, if I’m watching it in real-time, which I usually am, I don’t usually scrub through because I will absolutely miss something, I have to like start and stop the video to get the waveform to render properly if I want to watch it in real-time.
David: Yeah, there’s that too.
Joe: So yeah, 100%. Well, I don’t want to turn this into a ScreenFlow gripe, but I feel you there.
David: It’s like, next year make a $100 upgrade and fix that one thing and I’ll pay.
David: Nothing else. Just fix that.
Joe: Fix that one thing. Fantastic. All right. Wow, I’ve asked a lot of questions and we’re coming up on time here. I want to be mindful of your time of course. Let’s kind of quickly go through the publishing process. You have your videos, you’ve edited them, your editor have looked at them, and you use Teachable which is all in one, right? They host the videos and you can set the pricing there and all that fun stuff, right?
David: Yeah. So they take care of all that. They even collect the VAT tax for you. I haven’t looked at the other competitors since I started using Teachable. There are little things I don’t like about it, but they’re pretty responsive to me. I’m always sending them emails asking for additional features. I think they’re trying as much as they can. I ask for a lot. But I feel like it’s been a pretty good platform for me. It’s great. I don’t have to give a percentage to anybody now. I get to keep the money for the stuff I sell.
Some other production stuff I do at the end as I have a company that I hire to go through and create close captioning for all my videos. I put those on the files. Because I make all my videos downloadable—but once again, I don’t want to be hostile to my customers. If someone buys a field guide, I want them to be able to consume it either streaming or download—I get a lot of people emailing, say, “Well, I want one download for all of them.” Well, the problem is they’re like eight gigabytes or terabytes of video.
So what I’ve done recently is now at the end of the course, I will put in combined videos for easier download. Usually, it’s every section of the course you can download as an individual video. And that way if people are getting it on an airplane to go on vacation or whatever, they can just download the combined videos.
Another thing I’ve started, the most recent one—it’s in the Photos course. It isn’t any other course as yet—is I’m taking the closed captioning transcriptions and I’m combining them into PDF and epubBooks. So it’s not really writing a book. It’s the transcription of my video. But some people want that so I’m making that available too. I think if you’re going to publish stuff and sell it on the internet, you should make it as easy as possible for your customers to get what they want.
Joe: Yeah, absolutely. That’s such a great idea. Admittedly, I lag behind a little bit on the captioning and transcripts of my videos. I make sure to have transcripts for all the podcasts. But just like a PDF of the transcripts, that sounds really great. Because then even if you watch the course you can go, “Oh, he said something at some point.” You could maybe search the PDF for that specific moment.
Joe: Awesome. So David, thank you so much for your time. This has been great. I want to ask you if you have a trade secret for us or tips for the listeners on if they want to start creating their own field guides or online courses.
David: I think the thing you have to do…there’s a lot of stuff on the internet that’s free. You go like YouTube, but a lot of it…some of the YouTube creators are amazing, some of them are garbage. If you’re going to make something you’re going to sell, you need to make it outstanding. You have to be willing to do that if you’re going to charge people money for it. The other thing is if you’re going to sell things, you need to have a relationship with your customers. I try to give away a lot. If you go on learn.macsparky.com, about half of the courses are free. That’s intentional.
I want people to not feel like every time they hear from me, I’m asking for money. I don’t know if that’s smart or not. I haven’t really talked to people who are savvy in marketing, but I feel like I want to be someone that gives you a lot of free stuff, but occasionally make something spectacular. And if you want to buy it, you can. So I guess my advice would be, make great content and be willing to give away some stuff.
Joe: I love that. Make great content and be willing to give away some stuff. I think that’s a good model I try to…Well, I don’t know if I do it as effectively, but I think that’s so important. Especially having the relationship with your customers. You mentioned that MPU is a good source or your podcast, in general, are a good source of connecting with your customers. I know that you are one of like a handful of people that have very active forums that aren’t on some other social media platform. So kudos to you for that too. I think that’s super cool.
David: The Mac Power Users forum is like an entity unto itself. We moved off Facebook onto Discourse. Several years ago everybody told me that was a mistake and it’s turned out to be really great.
Joe: Awesome. I’m glad to hear that. David, I appreciate your time. Where can people find you?
David: Just go to Macsparky.com. There’s links there to all the field guides. If you really want a field guide, go to learn.macsparky.com and you can get one there. Then my podcasts are also linked at MacSparky.com. There’s three of them there. There’s the Mac Power Users, which is about Apple technology and getting more out of it. There’s the Focused podcast, which is about trying to stay focused, which I think is the superpower of this age. Then the third one is called Automators, which is the stuff that’s too nerdy to go and Mac Power Users. They’re all on Relay.Fm.
Joe: Awesome. I will link to all of that and more, including interviews with both Myke and Steven, the founders of Relay on the show notes over at howibuilt.it. David, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
David: Thanks, Joe. It’s been my pleasure. Keep doing this great show. I really like it. Thank you very much.
Outro: Thanks so much to David for joining me today. I really really loved our conversation, and then after we ended the recording, we had a nice chat about Star Wars: Clone Wars, which I just finished. And he was absolutely right. The last four episodes were amazing. I love that he went through his tools. I knew a lot of his tools already, I listen to all of his shows, but just getting to ask him direct questions about how certain things work. And a little gripe fest about ScreenFlow. I’m glad I’m not the only one who experiences problems there.
So I love his trade secrets about how there’s a lot on the internet for free, and if you’re going to make something to sell, you need to make it outstanding, and you need to have a relationship with your customers. All of those things are worth repeating. So thanks again to David for joining me, for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to me and to talk to us. If you want to learn more about David Sparks and see all of the tools that he’s using, you can head over to howibuilt.it/186.
Thanks so much to this week’s sponsors. They are Yes Plz Coffee, iThemes, and TextExpander. They help me run my business from the very first sip of coffee in the morning through the night by keeping my sites safe and secure. And like I said at the top of the show, if you want to get insights, content updates, and takeaways from this very show, you can sign up for the Build Something Weekly newsletter over at howibuilt.it/subscribe. Thanks so much for listening. And until next time, get out there and build something.