We must make content to serve the almighty algorithm to make money on YouTube, right? Wrong! Over the last couple of weeks, you’ve heard from creators who are doing a video that works for them — and today’s guest is no different. Hannah Smolinski is a Fractional CFO who grew her YouTube channel to 38,000 subscribers and doesn’t pay attention to analytics. Instead, she answers questions her target audience has, is generous with her time and her knowledge, and knows it’s all about the long game, not getting rich quickly.
- Don’t make money for Adsense. It’s too unpredictable. Instead, create good content and get people to know, like, and trust you.
- Doing videos on free resources helps get people onto your list. From there, you can continue to provide value, promote new videos, and form relationships with potential customers.
- The beautiful thing about consulting and YouTube: it allows people to really warm up to you. Hannah says most of her calls are with people who are already ready to hire her thanks to YouTube.
- Hannah Smolinski
- Hannah on YouTube
- Hannah on Facebook
- Hannah on Instagram
- Hannah on Linkedin
- Hannah on Tiktok
- Join the Creator Crew
Joe Casabona: When it comes to getting big on YouTube, we must make content to serve the almighty algorithm. Am I right? Wrong! Over the last couple of weeks, you’ve heard from creators who are doing a video that works for them — and today’s guest is no different.
Hannah Smolinski is a Fractional CFO who grew her YouTube channel to 38,000 subscribers and doesn’t pay attention to analytics. Instead, she answers questions her target audience has, is generous with her time and her knowledge, and knows it’s all about the long game, not getting rich quick.
So things to look out for in this episode is: don’t make money for AdSense — and we’ll talk about why that is. Talking about free resources will get people on your list—Hannah talks about her strategy for that—and how doing things on YouTube and being a consultant allows people to warm up to you more quickly.
It’s a great episode. I certainly learned a lot and it changed my perspective on my YouTube strategy moving forward. So thank you, Hannah, for that. I know you’re going to enjoy this episode. You can find all the show notes that we talked about over at howibuilt.it/291.
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.
Joe Casabona: All right, I am here with Hannah Smolinski. She is the CEO of Clara CFO Group. I’m really excited because we’re gonna be talking about YouTube. We’ve talked about this a couple of times earlier in the year but I have a love-hate… not a love-hate relationship with YouTube. I love YouTube. I am constantly changing my strategy though. So hopefully Hannah can help me out. Hannah, thanks for coming on the show today.
Hannah Smolinski: Thank you so much for having me, Joe. I’m excited to talk about YouTube. There’s always so much to talk about.
Joe Casabona: Yes. Actually, as we record this, this is coming out a little bit later than we record it, but as we record it, yesterday, YouTube just announced that shorts are going to be monetized. So even though I didn’t mention this at all in the pre-interview kind of greenroom time, do YouTube shorts really focus on long-form videos?
Hannah Smolinski: I have been dabbling in shorts and it’s actually part of my upcoming strategy to do more in the shorts section. So I’m excited to hear that because I hadn’t actually heard that before. So you’re sitting here giving me some news.
Joe Casabona: All right. I got an email last night I haven’t dug into it for reasons that we did discuss in the pre-show which was there was a water main break at my daughter’s school. So I lost part of the day of work yesterday. Awesome.
And then I guess while we’re on short-form video here, are you also doing like Tiktok and Instagram reels? Are you focusing on YouTube and follow-up? If you are doing all three do you record once and just upload the same video all three places?
Hannah Smolinski: Yes, sort of. I’ll qualify that a little bit. So I have dabbled in TikTok. I feel like I have. I am trying over there. It definitely is a smaller platform and Instagram is even smaller a platform for me. So YouTube is my largest platform. TikTok is probably second in line and then Instagram.
Honestly, I don’t spend time on Instagram so it’s really hard for me to want to be there, which is part of the thing. It’s like if I’m not wanting to be there, I don’t end up staying there and hanging out and putting stuff up. But I have started recording… I started just on TikTok and then uploading TikTok videos into YouTube. Now I’m trying to be a little bit more strategic about: is this a TikTok video? Is this a YouTube video? Do I want to put it in both places? Do I record it separately? Do I even want that little TikTok logo to be on my YouTube short? You know, things like that.
So I’m starting to play around with it more. But I’m a big fan of shorts. I consume a lot of it myself, shorts in TikTok. I consume way too much TikTok. So, I think it’s a great way to just give a clear message really quickly.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. That’s great. With YouTube you, I won’t say you fell into it, but you’re like kind of fell into it, right?
Hannah Smolinski: Yes. I would say I’m an accidental YouTuber. That’s what I would I call it. I had a channel… I’m a small business CFO, so I do one-to-one services for small businesses. And I had started a channel in 2018 just to kind of throw a few content pieces that I had up on the platform. So there were a couple of things that I wanted to do.
And I ended up having maybe one video go, quote-unquote, “viral” for me at the time because I only had, you know, 20 subscribers on my channel. I had a video that at the beginning of 2020 had around 7,000 views, which I thought was really impressive. I was impressed myself. But it took like two years to get that many views on it.
And I was getting some leads. That was the reason that it made me think, “Hey, maybe I should start to do a little bit more YouTube because I was actually getting people reaching out, hitting my email app and saying, “Hey, I saw your tutorial,” it was on a payroll software, “I saw your tutorial…” You know, and they would ask questions. I didn’t necessarily get clients from it, but I was starting to get inquiries. So I thought, “Hey, maybe this is a way that if I put more content on YouTube, maybe it’d be a great way to get more CFO clients.”
From there, I threw a couple more videos up in 2020. But then March of 2020, we all know what happened. So we get there. And I had put a couple of videos up, but when the pandemic hit, I started to realize there was a big opportunity in… Or really, it wasn’t that I was seeing opportunity, it was that I was seeing a need in that people were very confused about the PPP and the EIDL programs that were starting to be talked about.
And towards the end of March, all the news was coming out and talking about how there was a certain bucket of money, and the money was first come first served. And I had been working with small business owners and I knew that the small business owners needed the money. But I also knew that very, very few people had somebody actually on their side that was going to tell them about this program. Because keep in mind that people who probably would know about the program were smack dab in the middle of tax season and they were very, very busy.
So it was like this interesting thing that the CPAs didn’t really know about the program, the bookkeepers weren’t really paying attention either. And I was in the CFO position that, you know, I’m keeping a strategic, you know, 30,000-foot level on things. So when I heard about this program, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I need to know about it in order for my clients to know about it.” But then I just was like, “People aren’t going to know about this.”
So I immediately started to like put some video content out. Mostly, I think I did a live webinar first. And then that was just anybody that I knew, I emailed and invited them to for free. And then I put that recording up on YouTube. And that recording started to get some traction. And then from there, it was like just kind of a firestorm of questions. Then there was more guidance that would come out, then something else happened, then there would be another thing and another thing.
And what happened is I just started to realize that I was becoming a go-to resource for people to understand these programs and to get their questions answered. And from there, the numbers really started to show. More and more views, every single video was getting more and more traction, lots of subscribers starting to happen. And then before I knew it, I was hitting monetization. Like in May of 2020 I hit monetization. And then the channel just continued to grow because there was more to explain.
So it was kind of a public service honestly to get started because I just was very concerned that small business owners who needed the money would not get it. So that was where we started.
Joe Casabona: I mean, as a small business owner myself, I wasn’t going to apply because I wasn’t sure if I’d have to pay this back or how to get it. Or like I don’t have employees, so like, what can I even use the money for if I’m not… or like I heard that you couldn’t pay yourself, but then you could pay your… So it was very confusing. And I went through like Fundbox, I think, to do it. And still for a while I was like, “Am I gonna have to pay this back?” Like they said, “They’re gonna email me and then it was forgiven.” So I just like double-checked a couple of times to make sure like it was actually forgiven for real.
Hannah Smolinski: That was actually my highest-viewed video ever is answering that exact question. You know, how do I pay myself with PPP if I’m self-employed and I don’t have any employees?
Joe Casabona: That’s fantastic. So I think maybe the takeaway here is that you were answering questions that you knew people were asking, right? And then you continued. I mean, you’ve got – what? 38,000, 36,000 subscribers, something like that? That’s amazing.
I started really doing YouTube for real in like February 2020 right before the pandemic. One of my most popular videos is how I set up my camera that I use. I got monetization there. But I’ve started a new channel that’s focused on podcasting.
So my first question here for you, I guess this is not really my first question, but the next first question is, you mentioned that you hit monetization, you also started getting leads and inquiries. Do you find that there’s like a push and pull between monetizing your videos as well as using it for qualified leads? Do you use it for more… one more than the other? Are you kind of doing both? How is your YouTube channel making you money today?
Hannah Smolinski: I’ve got kind of multiple streams of income coming from YouTube. So you know, I am monetized. I do have AdSense that’s becoming like… AdSense is nice to have. It’s never something I would rely on because it’s just so finicky. You’re just like one month it blew me away. I was like, “Wow, if I could have this every month, it would be amazing.” And then, you know, it drops way down because, you know, I had that one video go viral and so it was generating a lot of money.
But it’s inconsistent. So you just don’t ever really know. I don’t make videos for AdSense because it’s too unpredictable and you never know when your video is gonna get picked up and when the algorithms gonna like it, and when, you know, people are really going to be interacting. But I have AdSense.
I also do some affiliate revenue. So I do have some affiliate relationships with software that I know and love and use. And then I have digital products. So I do things like spreadsheets that people can download. I have a lot of free spreadsheets that people… and that’s typically how I build my email list is I give away free stuff. So that was really great.
Like during PPP, I made some really amazing spreadsheets that people were using and totally got for free. But then I also have things like calculating your estimated taxes. You know, it’s a $19 product. And so people can go and download a nice spreadsheet to help them with that process.
So I will create a video specifically on using the spreadsheet. I totally show the entire spreadsheet, I walk people through how to use it. It’s not like I’m trying to hide it so they don’t see what they’re getting. But it’s like, “Hey, if you want to create it, you can or you can just buy it, I’ve already done it for you. So you can go and check out this link really quickly.”
So I have some videos that are specifically on like… And a lot of that honestly is driven off of stuff that we have developed to help clients, and then we just pull it back and say like, “Does this have a wider market value? Would this be something that hundreds of people might want to download or you know, hopefully, eventually thousands of people might want to download?” So I do it that way.
I also have some affiliate relationships with other people’s spreadsheets. So I have another YouTube friend who she has something that she’s created that’s really amazing, and we just do an affiliate split on it. And then I do have that ability to… I mean, I’ve done workshops and recordings and things like that, which I would kind of call a digital product at the same time.
But then I do get clients. I mean, I’ve gotten a lot of client inquiries and clients who have been on my roster for over a year now, over two years almost really came in because they watched a YouTube video and I helped them on something and they said, “Hey, this person seems to know what she’s talking about. If she can help me here, maybe she can help me in my business,” you know.
So it’s been really great. And it’s definitely been a good marketing engine, because it’s a marketing engine that not only pays me, but then it also is sitting out there and it’s evergreen — it can sit out there for a long time.
Joe Casabona: That’s awesome. Now, I’m gonna use this [inaudible 00:12:58] that I’ve overused before. I’m gonna double click on something you just said. I just interviewed somebody earlier and he said it so now it’s stuck in my head.
You said you don’t make videos for AdSense, right? I think that’s a really interesting distinction, right? Because there are people who are like, “This needs to go viral, or this needs to get X amount of views. And so I’m going to AB test the titles and AB test the thumbnails and all this. And I feel like that could put a lot of pressure on a YouTuber, right? It’s like at any moment the fickle hand of the YouTube algorithm can cut off your income stream.
At the same time, I’m looking at some of your videos and, you know, the views are varying. Do you find that there’s a particular… I feel like now that I’m saying it this is like a very setupy question. Do you find that there’s a particular time of the year that your videos do well?
Hannah Smolinski: No, actually. I think it depends on the topic. There are certain things. So for example, that estimated tax video that I mentioned, if it’s estimated taxes, I see a surge in the views around every quarter when estimated taxes are due. So that kind of surges in certain things.
Some of the videos that have done the best, I guess, don’t have any seasonality to them. One of them is like how to start a QuickBooks account. Because I use QuickBooks and it’s something that I prefer. So that video is just kind of sitting out there. And anybody at any point in time starting a business or thinking, “Hey, I need to get more control over my finances. I might want to get an accounting system in place,” you know, that video is gonna sit out there and it doesn’t really matter.
I mean, you might get a little bit more maybe the beginning of the year type of thing where people are like, “Okay, I want to do it right this year.” But overall, I would say I don’t really have tons of seasonality. There’s just kind of different pieces that might pick up at different times.
Joe Casabona: Gotcha. Yeah. Your content seems like is… you’re playing the long game with your content really. You know, it’s not like February, April, whatever, 13th, then you make a video that’s like, “Submit your taxes right now,” or whatever.
Hannah Smolinski: Yeah. I think that’s a great way to use shorts potentially, kind of like reminders. You know, something that might be a little bit more timely. And that might be a really great thing to sit on Instagram, or it might be a way that you could do a little video or something like that.
I had a lot of timely content when I was doing PPP and EIDL videos because a piece of information would be posted on the Treasury website, and it would be who can dissect it and understand it first and get the video out. That person would get the most views. Because there was maybe like four or five of us who are really doing a video trying to really explain it, especially people who are actually CPAs and actually in finance, and not just kind of the person who is trying to get the clickbaity stuff. There were a lot of people like that on YouTube at the time.
So we were all kind of rushing to be like, who’s getting the video first? So timely content like that, though, it’s not evergreen. And then, you know, it gets stale really fast. And so I’m moving more of my content to things that can stand the test of time a little bit more. I think that’s going to help the whole channel sort of grow in views, because if somebody likes one thing, I’m gonna have another video for them to watch that might be something that is similar.
Like I just did a financial review video where I walked through the financials of a small residential remodeling company. People like those, but they don’t get tons of views. But I actually now have a playlist of like four or five of them. So then somebody can actually go, if they found that helpful, they can go and watch all the other videos, too.
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Joe Casabona: The way you just talked about the PPP, EIDL stuff made me think of like tech Twitter. Actually, as we record this, the Apple Watch Ultra reviews dropped. And it used to be the case, right? Like the tech YouTuber that got the review first got all the views.
But now it’s like Apple sends a bunch of tech YouTubers the same product and they all have the same embargo and the same amount of time. So it’s not really the case anymore. Now you gotta find kind of a different spin on it. Like, how are you going to present this differently?
Like, how does Sara Dietschy present it differently from like MKBHD or whatever? By the way, shout out to Sara Dietschy. I love her for videos. I don’t know her or anything, but I just like her videos a lot. I think that’s really interesting. I think the way that you approach it makes a lot of sense for maybe information workers or people offering services, because now you’re putting out content that people can find anytime.
Whereas when I was making WordPress videos, my most popular videos were like the What’s New in WordPress five point whatever. I had to make sure I had that video ready to go when WordPress dropped. Like within 12 hours of when it dropped. And if I didn’t, somebody else got to it and they got the views. And I was just like, “That’s not the kind of stuff I want to put out.”
I mean, tech reviews get pretty stale. Like tech how-to videos get pretty stale pretty quickly anyway. So I’m trying to think of this through the lens of my podcast channel and like what I could do to help out because my authority is not getting a lot of traction right now. My engagement is super weird. It’s like your audience retention will be like close to zero the whole time and like shoot up in the last 10 seconds. That’s super weird, right?
I like tweeted Roberto Blake this and he’s like, “I have never seen a retention graph like this before.” At least I’m not just like, “Oh, no one’s watching my videos and I’m mad about it.” It’s like super weird.
Hannah Smolinski: Yeah, that seems like a data problem.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah, right. My theory is that the way I’m reposting them to my website they’re like tagged in like the last 10 seconds maybe. But I’m not seeing that on my end. So I don’t know.
Hannah Smolinski: Like the start time of when somebody clicks on has been set to like the end of the video.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. Or maybe that chapter, like the wrapping-up chapter is the one that gets hit a lot in Google. I don’t know. Which actually brings me to my next question. So I have kind of three content-based questions here. I’ll give you them all at once and I’ll reiterate them just for the listeners so they know what’s coming.
One is, do you use chapters, and do you see a benefit to them? Two, is it looks like you probably publish weekly, but like, tell me a little bit about your publishing schedule. And three is I see you also do live streams, I’d love to know about that. So first, let’s start with chapters. I think that’s probably the quickest answer. Do you use chapters?
Hannah Smolinski: I did start using chapters. It was something that I had seen on other people’s videos and I couldn’t figure out how to do it for a while. And then I just realized how easy it was. You just literally type in a timestamp, but you just have to type it in a certain format in the description box and then the chapters get created for you.
So like if you are a YouTube creator, it’s very, very simple to put chapters into any video. And you can go back and do it to your library in the past too. So if you did want to do that. I think it does help to see… I mean, honestly, it makes it look a little bit more professional. So I kind of liked that about it. But then it also helps people skip if they want to skip through your intro, and they might want to watch your video, but they’re not happy with like… even if it’s a 32nd intro and you’re not like going on and on and on.
I’ve been blamed of being kind of long-winded and my intros and maybe bumbling a little bit more than I need to. So if you give people a direct place to go, that can be helpful.
And then it also gives you more chances for keywords too. So when you have the chapters, you can put that in your tags, and you can potentially just have a little bit more direct keywords there in the video.
I can’t say that I can say that chapters have revolutionized my channel or anything like that. But I think if you can make your video that much easier to watch and that much easier to browse and get people the information they want quicker, they’re more likely to stick around. So I think they’re very easy to do, why not do them?
Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure. And that’s the thing, right? They are super easy to do for YouTube. I mean, this is… I’m just kind of spit-balling here now. Maybe I’ll take this approach for my next video. But if you think of the chapters ahead of time, it kind of helps you add some structure to your video too.
It’s almost like an outline, which I don’t know, I’m usually very off the cuff in my videos. And my current most popular video is my most recent one. And I wasn’t even going to put that on YouTube. It was just like a test of the continuity, like a new feature where you can use your iPhone as a webcam natively. And I was like, “Oh, this maybe feels like good YouTube content.” And now it’s like the most popular video on the channel. I guess I have to make iPhone videos from now on.
But anyway, adding chapters is super easy, right, versus like adding chapters to a podcast. You’ll notice if you’re listening to this, there are no chapters because you have to like re-encode the mp3 with the information. Like I’d have to get it back from my editor and then put it in this specific app that adds chapters. And I’m just like, If I had like a news show with like specific segments, maybe. But this is a very free-flowing interview.
Hannah Smolinski: Yeah. But if it were super difficult, I probably wouldn’t do them in YouTube because I mean, again, I’m not a full-time YouTuber. I don’t have like all the time in the world to work on this stuff. So the fact that it’s like I just put in the timestamps, and you’re good to go and you can go and edit it at any time, I like that.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, super cool. So what is your publishing schedule like or what’s your approach to creating YouTube videos I guess?
Hannah Smolinski: So during PPP, EIDL time it was you know, when there’s information I will post a video. So it was very responsive. And now for over a year I’ve moved more into a weekly schedule. So I’m pretty religious about making sure I have a weekly upload. I think two weeks ago I missed one because I was actually in Scotland, which is very good reason to miss things.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. Where in Scotland were you?
Hannah Smolinski: I traveled around. I was in Edinburgh, and then I went up to Isle of Skye, and the Outer Hebrides islands. So it was a good adventure.
Joe Casabona: Cool. I love Scotch. So I think maybe in the members-only part of the episode we can talk about Scotland. Does that sound good?
Hannah Smolinski: Yes.
Joe Casabona: I won’t hold you to like knowing a lot of Scotch.
Hannah Smolinski: We can. Although I drink way more gin than Scotch but…
Joe Casabona: All right, cool. So we’ll talk about Scotland and alcohol. If you want to catch that part of the conversation ad-free, you can sign up over at howibuilt.it/291. That’s where all the show notes will be as well, including a link to Hannah’s YouTube channel.
Okay, so you missed a couple weeks ago because you were in Scotland.
Hannah Smolinski: Yeah. Usually, I like to have batched recording so I won’t have something like that happen. But getting ready for a vacation and trying to keep my clients happy, the YouTube ended up becoming like kind of it fell to the back of the burner. So I didn’t have the backlog that I would like to have.
I typically try to create at least four videos at a time whenever possible. Even if they’re not fully edited, at least I have the raw content available that I can get it to the editor, and then we can kind of get it uploaded from there. But I’ve just been behind on my batch content. That’s really the only way I’ve been able to hit a weekly upload commitment is by batch recording as much as possible. So I’m always trying to like write down my ideas and think about things kind of ahead of time.
Sometimes I need content from other people. Like if I’m doing a real-life financial review, I’ll need to make sure I’ve connected with that person, tell them what they need, make sure the files that they sent me are actually good enough to review. There’s more of that goes into some of those videos.
And sometimes it’s actually like video recordings and then sometimes I do screen shares, too. So I’ve got like different pieces that I need to record at different times.
Joe Casabona: Gotcha. You have an editor? Is that what you said?
Hannah Smolinski: Yeah. I’m using a video editing service. They’re all focused on YouTube editing. That’s been a great solution because I was doing all my editing before. And I needed to for a while just because content… I needed to edit and listen to make sure I said the right words, especially around all the PPP stuff. Because it was really easy for me to get into a flow of speaking and accidentally say months instead of weeks and a number like 24 instead of 30 because the rules changed and whatnot. So I didn’t want it to go out and have me actually say the wrong thing. And I was just kind of holding on to it really tightly.
But now I think I’m in a place where I can offload some of that. It’s good. I will still review for content to make sure I’m not saying the wrong thing because as a CPA, it’s important that I say the right thing. I tell everybody’s big disclaimer, don’t take tax advice like this is… you’ve got to go and find your own professional, but people will still listen to me. And so I have to be really responsible with my words.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And if you don’t mind me asking, you don’t have to answer this, how much does that cost you for the video editing service?
Hannah Smolinski: Oh, it’s really reasonable. I think I’m paying about $350 a month right now. And that’s for four videos. I’ve gotten a good groove with my editor to where I’m really happy with the product that comes out. So I’m pretty happy.
Joe Casabona: Nice. I had a video editor for a while but he focuses on screencasts for online courses. And I feel like that type of edit is very different from a YouTube edit. I’m editing my own right now. I have my stream deck set up with ECAM live. So like, I don’t have to really edit that much, which is great. But I would like to find an editor if I start doing this more regularly again.
Hannah Smolinski: Well, I’m happy to make a referral. I’ve been really happy. I think that finding an editor that matches your style, I think can take a little bit of time. And the first editor I had hired was way in the creative side. Like he really enjoyed multiple different types of footage and you know, thinking about it in a storyline and stuff. But what I needed is I needed somebody to listen to my content, and then maybe pull up some words on the screen and think about what to pull out and to give me a little bit more visuals. So it took a little while to find the right fit.
Joe Casabona: That’s kind of why I started editing myself, because I’m like, “I don’t really know what I want.” I’m like, “Do like Sara Dietschy.” But like, “What does that mean?” I keep mentioning those two because I just watched their videos today. Like MKBHD very effectively uses like the [inaudible 00:28:44] in zoom when he makes a point. And I’m like, “Yes, I want to do that. That’s the kind of like emphasis I want.” Which I guess I could do easily enough in ScreenFlow or whatever. But that’s really interesting.
And so you said you’re always writing down your ideas and you try to batch ideas. Do you pay attention a ton to the analytics? Or do you just kind of make the videos that come to your mind? Because these are like questions you’ve been asked or things that you know are important for people to know.
Hannah Smolinski: Well, I’ll tell you my very, very scientific process. I write down stuff on a piece of paper, when I’m like, “Hey, I should maybe do a video about that.” And then I get it into like some type of list. I use ClickUp to try to keep track of some ideas. But they come from lots of different sources. So my ideas come from multiple things.
I’d say the last thing that I would ever look at would be YouTube Analytics. I’m not paying attention and making videos specifically to hit the analytics. Maybe that’s a failing of my channel and whatnot but I really try to drive most of my content from what are the questions that people are actually asking. And that can be my clients asking questions, that can be people asking questions in the comments, that can be random emails I’m getting because I get people, you know, filling out my contact form on my website.
You know, I’ll get some random email questions coming in. But if I get questions coming in my theory, and I believe this to be true, is that if one person actually asks the question, then there’s thousands of people who had the question and never asked it.
And like I mentioned, my highest viewed video for me, it went viral, and it has about 200,000 views on it now, it was just a question that came up multiple times. And I started to say like, “Okay, like five people asked essentially the same boiled down question on one video. So if I just make a video specifically answering that question, it probably has legs. Like it probably will be something as long as it gets in front of the right people.” And it did.
I never thought I would get that type of… I mostly almost wanted to just stop answering the question in text. I just wanted to have a video to send people to. “Oh, here’s a video for that. Here’s a video for that.” But because I was being lazy, basically is what happened. But I mean, that video ended up like making me a lot of money, which is great. And it also helps tons of people. I mean, also awesome. A lot of people got the loans that maybe weren’t gonna get them otherwise. So it had impact, and from a business perspective, it made money. So that was good.
So I think answering questions is my number one content kind of generator. Like I did a series on QuickBooks, and I did 10 videos. And then from that, I wasn’t going to do any more QuickBooks videos, because I’m not a bookkeeper. And I didn’t want to have a channel identity of being the go-to place for bookkeeping questions. But there are a couple of themes that came out of that that I was like, “You know what? I maybe need to do one or two more videos, just kind of to round it out, and give people enough that it’s like filling out some of their questions.
And then after that, I’m pointing them to other channels, that it’s like, “Hey, this person has great bookkeeping content, go and see if they have a video on that.” Or maybe I’ll even find a video and respond to a comment with a great video from another creator. Somebody that I know I’ve collaborated with before, and then I know that their stuff is really great and comprehensive, like why not give them a boost? It’s keeping that user on the platform, which is really what YouTube wants.
Joe Casabona: That’s awesome. I like that a lot. I think I pay a little bit too much attention to the analytics. If a video doesn’t get like a certain amount of downloads in like the first 24 hours, I’m like, “Oh, this was a dud.” But I need to play the long game a little bit and answer questions people are asking.
I have these grand plans for like these… like ConvertKit for podcasters or Riverside for podcasters. Maybe I just take it one at a time. And if somebody asks me like, “Why should I use Riverside?” That’s a video I’d make. I like that a lot.
I’m really good at coming up with ideas. And then like finding the one I want to execute on is always like the…uh. Like, “What’s one I can do quick and dirty?” Which is not really what YouTube wants. But if I’m not paying attention to what YouTube wants and I’m paying attention to what my viewers want, or what potential viewers want, that’s going to be a little bit healthier for me
And to that end, you mentioned that you get leads, people are joining your email list. Marie Poulin was on the show a couple of weeks ago. Actually, now that I’m looking at my schedule, this is like the end of a little three episode like YouTube arc where like you started at 289 with Marie Poulin, and then 290 was Dan Bennett about like gear and why gear doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. And so now we’re kind of running out with coming up with content.
But Marie also mentioned that she built her mailing list and got a lot of leads and sold her course directly just kind of by mentioning it in the description of her video. So how do you generate leads? Are you pinning a comment? Are you explicitly asking in the video to like subscribe to your mailing list? What’s that like?
Hannah Smolinski: Most of the email subscribers I’ve gotten has been when I’ve given something away for free and I talk about it on the video. So like half of my list or probably a little bit less than half at this point came on during that PPP time.
I had done a video specifically showing my spreadsheet that I had created. And then it was very easy for people to be like, “You know, I want that.” And I would just say, “If you want your own copy, get it in the description box below. Go and grab it for free.” And if you don’t want to be on the email list, no worries, just unsubscribe. It cost me money to hold on to subscribers that are not going to ever engage with my things.
So if they want, fine. Public service, go for it. I’m happy to create some good free content in the world that you don’t have to be on my email list if you don’t want to. I mean, I’ve had people sit on the email list for over a year, and I just literally had a discovery call with someone who wants to start working with me after being on my list for over a year.
This is the long game. Because I have a consulting business, I mean, we’re doing CFO services, so like, getting people on the email list is like one great thing. But then having to keep delivering that content over and over and over again, that’s part of that nurturing part of it. And hopefully, we keep adding value. And then when they’re ready for a CFO, we’re here.
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Joe Casabona: We didn’t really talk about this but you do like CFO-for-hire stuff, right? So like I have a small company, I don’t want to bring on my own CFO, but I know I need one. So I would hire somebody like you to… It’s essentially like a CFO in a box or whatever, right? That’s like a little bit-
Hannah Smolinski: Fractional.
Joe Casabona: Fractional That’s like the real word.
Hannah Smolinski: Most small businesses aren’t going to need a full-time CFO. I mean, you would be into the 50-plus million dollars annual revenue probably before you need to consider that type of role. So we even focus on fractional and even I like to call it almost micro fractional because in really small businesses, we might not need to meet very often, but we can really hit on all of the financial strategy in a really short amount of time.
Joe Casabona: Nice. Nice. Just for clarification and context, I guess that’s different from an accountant or a bookkeeper, right? Like a CFO is looking at the long-term strategy of your business and not necessarily the day-to-day bookkeeping stuff.
Hannah Smolinski: Yeah. I like to say that accountants and bookkeepers look at what has happened. And then CFOs focus on what is going to happen. So we use all of that historical information to inform our decision-making. But then what we help with is like, what do we do now? “Okay, I’ve got the financials. Now what?” “Oh, we need to hire somebody.” “Well, what does that look like?” or “Are we going to have the cash to do that? or “What if I want to open this new location? What does that look like? Can we afford it? And what do we need to do?” So we’re helping to inform those future decisions.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. And tying it back to the long game, that’s not like an impulse buy for most people, right? It’s not like buying my $40 workshop because I touched on one topic in a YouTube video. That’s like I need to be convinced, I need to be ready, I need to know and trust the person that I’m going to hire.
Hannah Smolinski: Absolutely. I think that’s one of the beautiful things about consulting in YouTube is that it does give you the opportunity for someone to really warm up to you and your style. And even if they really like your approach or what you’re saying, it gives people a really clear picture of what it would be like to work with you and the type of advice they’d be getting.
And I think that for consultants, I mean, that’s huge, because like… I mean, there’s a gazillion fractional CFOs out there, like so many people out there doing this work. But if people are watching a video, they say, “Wow, I love the way…” And this is what happens. “I love the way that you explained this to me. I didn’t feel like it was using too much jargon. It was very clear. I understood you, I like the heart behind what you’re doing, I think we’re a values fit and I want to work with you.” And I’m getting those warm leads that take very little convincing at that point.
I make my prices very clear on my website. So it’s like we’re almost ready to work together sometimes by the time somebody actually reaches out for a discovery call. And it just makes the sales process so much easier. And then they feel like they’ve fully vetted me by the time we’re actually working together.
We take on clients and they’re clients for a really long time. I mean, we basically like to work with them until we graduate them. They’ve grown so much that they need to hire somebody internally. So you know, it’s a big commitment, and we want people to feel comfortable about that.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. This is a theme that keeps coming up this year on the show as I really focused on content creation is we’re basically ready to work together by the time we get on a sales call. Like putting out free quality content is basically like a pre-sales call or a qualification call. You’re maybe not getting a lot of leads, but you’re getting warm leads, like people who are already ready to spend that money.
Hannah Smolinski: Yeah, I would agree. I think there’s a lot of opportunity. I think one reason why people don’t do it maybe is they’re worried, “Why would people want to work with me if I’m going to be giving away all my stuff for free?”
Joe Casabona: I was gonna ask you about this thing. So I’m really glad you brought it up.
Hannah Smolinski: I think that was a fear. And I mean, it’s a fear that I still have, you know. Like, what if I do all these workshops and then people take all my workshops, and they don’t want to actually have us help them do things?
But I think at the end of the day, there will always be the people who want the direct help. And I can’t give away everything that’s in my brain. I have, you know, other CFOs now as well. Like we are a team. And it’s not just, you know, the content that I’m creating but it’s also like I’ve got these other people who are amazing at different parts of the finance function and we are offering something that’s more holistic than just a spreadsheet or an hour seminar. That is just kind of the tip of the iceberg.
And I think if you really are a competent consultant, or advisor, or business coach, or whatever it is, you’ve probably got a huge depth of knowledge that you can share. And just like starting with content, there’s no way you’re going to be able to share everything in your brain.
Or like, you know, use different types of content to showcase what you have. Like I’m doing these financial reviews where I’m walking through people’s financials, which showcases the fact that I know what I’m talking about.
But it doesn’t mean that somebody’s not gonna hire me because they watched that one video. They’re gonna go, “Wow, my business is kind of like that, but kind of not like that. So maybe I need to hire her to see what she’ll say about my business.”
And that’s just, you know, the people’s thought processes. It gives them a chance to see what you do, but they can also learn from it — and maybe they do have what they need. And that’s fine. And I’m always okay with, like, if my content reaches a business owner, and they never, ever, ever, ever give me $1, I’m 100% okay with that. Like, if it helps them in some ways, I am accomplishing my goal. So it’s good.
Joe Casabona: Right. YouTube video can’t give you direct feedback. I had a coaching call today with one of my podcast coaching clients, and I have a video on… Well, actually I have a podcast episode—I should do a video on this—on what your sponsor pitch deck should have. And they can download my Canva template if they want. But with my coaching client, I was able to look at their pitch deck and say, well, you should change this, you should optimize this.
You can’t get that from a YouTube video. And I’m not going to offer that in the comments. Like, if someone’s like, “Look at my pitch deck,” I’ll be like, “Here’s my consulting link.” Right?
Hannah Smolinski: Right.
Joe Casabona: So I think you’re absolutely right. I’ve become of the mind that you can’t give away too much information for free. Because like you said, there are people who are gonna want feedback on their exact thing. And they’re gonna be a lot of people who you can do it for. Like, they just want you to do it for them. And a YouTube video can’t do it for them.
Hannah Smolinski: Yes, that is really true. I think one of the challenges that I’ve run into as a content creator is finding the line between what is free and what is paid. And I think there’s some people who will say, like, I’m just going to make everything free. And I think that’s a great strategy. I don’t have any problem with that. I might end up there.
Currently, I have some paid content. Like some of my spreadsheets are free, and some of them are paid. I think that’s something that every individual will kind of have to decide for their own business, what makes sense.
I’ve done workshops that are free and I’ve done workshops that are not free. And it’s taken me a little while to kind of work through that. I don’t think I have it fully figured out. But I think that is probably a challenge that just to kind of make people aware. Like if you give everything away for free, and then you want to monetize, there’s absolutely ways to do it.
But it is something you might want to think about. Like what is the difference between your free content and your paid content? And why should people pay for your content versus the free content, just consume everything there? I mean, there’s lots of opportunities, but it is one of the challenges.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I sell a self-paced online course, right? Those are all just pre-recorded videos that I could put on YouTube if I wanted to, but there’s some value to those videos. And there’s access and they’re like organized in a certain way. I guess you could do that with a playlist.
But for me, it’s like how much value is this giving somebody? Am I answering a question for them or am I walking them through a system or a process? And maybe if I’m walking them through that process, that’s where it’s worth paying for. But it’s a really hard question to answer especially depending on your offer and how you do want to make money.
Well, I want to be cognizant of your time here. I teased the live stream bit and we haven’t followed up on that yet. So I noticed that you have live streams. From what I understand live streams are great for your current subscriber base, not necessarily for discoverability. Do you find that to be the case? And how do you decide when and what to livestream?
Hannah Smolinski: I’ve really use live streams mostly for timely information that I want to communicate. So I use them more during my EIDL, PPP timing when an update would come out and I would be like, “You know what? I just need to talk about this. And I want to give some people some open space to actually have some interaction.”
I would almost always communicate it to my email list ahead of time. Like every time I publish a video, the next morning, it goes out to my entire email list. So that kind of helps get traction on that first 24 hours on a video. So if I want people to show up to the live stream, I would email about it. If I don’t want people to show up to the live stream, I would not email about it because then only people who probably have the notification bell are really gonna, you know, potentially show up, if they can even watch it at the time.
I wouldn’t say it’s a big thing for discoverability. Usually when I would see people who actually are there and commenting it’s people who have been longtime subscribers or who have interacted with the channel before. I see it as like a bonus. I see it as a way to like have a little bit of interaction, to be able to like ask some questions and maybe get some real-time feedback. I enjoy live streaming, I think it’s fun, but I don’t have any kind of consistent cadence to it or anything like that.
Joe Casabona: Is that part monetized for you? Because I have like super chats and super stickers turned on. Actually, if somebody gives me a super chat, the purple lights behind me all blink a different one.
Hannah Smolinski: Oh, cool.
Hannah Smolinski: I’ve never done that. I think it’s technically turned on. I’ve never told anybody they can do it. So I think if you are going to do it and you want people to do it, you need to communicate that it’s an option and tell them how to use it. I think that’s an important piece.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure. Definitely, you gotta do the ask. I know that there’s like super thanks now, which kind of brings out functionality to like pre-recorded videos. Because that was only for like live streams and premieres. You know, there’s a few ways to monetize now.
Hannah Smolinski: Yeah. I’ve turned that on. And I’ve gotten a couple of people who just, you know, send me $5, $10 just for like making a video, which is super cool. I mean, that’s really nice.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s awesome, right? I mean, it shows that they found value in it. And that’s really cool. Awesome. Hannah, this has been just a blast. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. If people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?
Hannah Smolinski: Thank you and thank you for having me. It has been fun. I love talking about YouTube. There’s just so much. There’s so much. So if you want to find me, my YouTube channel is at Clara CFO Group. And then you can always reach out to me. My website is www.claracfo.com/. And then feel free to email me directly. So it’s email@example.com. I’d love to have a chat.
Joe Casabona: All right. And that’s Hannah with an H. I’ve seen it spelled both ways. I have always seen two Ns, I think. But Hannah with an H.
Hannah Smolinski: That’s pretty common.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. Awesome. I will put all of that stuff in the show notes, which again you can find over at howibuilt.it/291. So you’ll be able to find all of Hannah’s stuff. I have a video on how I logged my ideas with my ridiculous tech stack. And of course, you can become a member of the Creator Crew, which will give you ad-free extended episodes. Hannah and I are going to talk about Scotland and alcohol, so you can sign up for 50 bucks a year. Once again, that link is howibuilt.it/291.
Hannah, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
Hannah Smolinski: Thank you so much for having me.
Joe Casabona: My pleasure. And thanks to our sponsors. Thank you for listening. And until next time, get out there and build something.
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