Episode 175: Teaching, online business and all that jazz: transferable skills and finding your personal store of value – with Olly Richards

It’s natural for people’s careers to change over time, but how do you evolve your career if you don’t feel like you have anything special to offer?

Olly Richards had a series of random careers, from jazz musician to English teacher, before eventually starting a language learning blog and growing it into a $10 million business. 

He explains how to identify the transferable skills you have, stand out in your field and learn the essentials of business. 

He also talks about common thought patterns that indicate a career change is a good move, why you shouldn’t compare your career to others, and how the evolution of the internet has created more business opportunities.

Today’s guest

Olly Richards

Website: Olly Richards 

YouTube: Olly Richards

Twitter: Olly Richards

LinkedIn: Olly Richards

Instagram: Olly Richards

Olly Richards had a series of random careers, from jazz musician to English teacher, before eventually starting a blog on his passion – language learning – and growing it into a $10 million business.  Today, he writes a newsletter teaching other online entrepreneurs how to scale their businesses to 7+ figures, using StoryLearning as a “living case study”. 

As he was scaling StoryLearning, Olly constantly struggled to find other successful entrepreneurs who taught freely how they were growing their businesses.  In the end, he had to figure it all out for himself, and committed to, one day, providing mentorship to others looking to navigate the perils of scaling.  When StoryLearning turned ten, Olly launched his newsletter, teaching strategy and mindset to scale education companies to 7+ figures. 

Olly, from the UK, started his career as a jazz musician in the UK, playing professionally for seven years. He decided that career wasn’t for him, and instead trained as an English teacher.  At 28, he took a teaching job in Japan and started a new career, later moving to Qatar and Egypt. 

Throughout all this time, Olly’s passion was learning foreign languages, and he taught himself eight languages.  While living in the Middle East, he decided to channel this passion into creative output and started a WordPress blog teaching others techniques for learning foreign languages.  Over the next ten years, Olly grew his business from a fledgling blog to a multi-million dollar business, publishing dozens of books and becoming one of the most renowned language companies on the internet. 

Today, Olly is involved in multiple successful education companies as an investor, mentor and advisor, but his passion is still teaching and working with others.  His newsletter focuses specifically on helping 6-figure business owners make the leap to 7+ figures and beyond. 

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • [1:59] The different key transitions in Olly’s career. 
  • [4:08] Common thought patterns that indicate a career change is a good move. 
  • [5:55] The frame of mind you need to start a career as a professional jazz musician. 
  • [7:06] What made Olly stop playing jazz professionally. 
  • [10:23] The benefits of teaching jazz instead of performing live music. 
  • [12:10] Why people want to teach English abroad. 
  • [15:15] The differences between teaching in the UK and teaching abroad. 
  • [17:47] How Olly chose where to teach English abroad. 
  • [19:25] The benefits of working in the Middle East as an English teacher. 
  • [20:10] How the evolution of the internet has created business opportunities. 
  • [24:15] The problem with comparing your career to your friends’. 
  • [25:07] How to stand out and identify your unique skills.  
  • [28:47] Ways of turning a hobby blog into a business. 
  • [31:55] Where to learn the essentials of making money from a blog. 
  • [34:32] How and why to build a business personal brand.  
  • [40:15] What all of Olly’s jobs have had in common. 
  • [41:53] Olly’s plans for the future. 
  • [45:25] Why Olly decided to start a blog.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a commission in the event that you make a purchase.  This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.

Episode 175: Teaching, online business and all that jazz: transferable skills and finding your personal store of value - with Olly Richards

Jeremy Cline 0:00
Gone are the days where you stick to one job for life. It's far more likely that your career will evolve over time. But how does that happen for you, if you feel like you've got nothing going for you, and there's nothing special about you? That's what we're going to talk about in this week's episode. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.

Jeremy Cline 0:35
Hello, and welcome to the Change Work Life podcast, the show that's all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. If you want to know how you can enjoy a more satisfying and fulfilling working life, you're in the right place. The Seven Year Itch is a 1955 film starring Marilyn Monroe, which features one of the most iconic moments in movie history. If you don't know what I'm talking about, look it up on YouTube. The title is based on the idea that interest in relationships starts to wane after around seven years of marriage. But can the same be said for your career? Is it after seven years that you start to look elsewhere? That may have been the case for my guest this week. Olly Richards has been a professional jazz musician, English teacher, and founder of a language education business. He now invests in and is an adviser to multiple education companies and has a newsletter which helps other entrepreneurs to scale their businesses. Olly, welcome to the show.

Olly Richards 1:34
Thank you very much. Looking forward to chatting.

Jeremy Cline 1:36
So, this seven-year itch idea, is that something that feels like it maps quite well onto your own career?

Olly Richards 1:42
It is very much, and funnily enough, I just celebrated my 11-year wedding anniversary last week. And so, I'm happy to report that it hasn't as yet crossed over onto marriage. But yeah, to break my career down into a series of seven-year stages, and it wasn't planned this way, it's just that I've found that I've naturally gravitated towards and away from things at different points in time. And for me, it began with jazz music. So, I went to university, did a degree in jazz piano, was a professional jazz musician for seven years. I eventually fell out of love not with the music, but with the lifestyle. And then, in my late 20s, I was completely lost and decided to change career, do something completely different. So, I trained to be an English teacher, went to Japan, and spent seven years teaching in Japan, and also in the Middle East, in Qatar and Egypt, climbing through the ranks, such as they are, of the English language world, becoming a middle manager and a teaching centre manager. And then, around that same time, I decided to start blogging about my other passion, which was always learning languages. And there was a bit of a crossover there. But at the seven-year mark of being an English teacher, I quit my job. Also, my daughter was going to be born, so it was forced upon me in a way to quit, move back to the UK, and go full-time on my blog to try and turn that into a business, which fortunately was successful. And then, I'm kind of at the next seven-year phase right now, which is really why I'm here talking to you actually, which is that I've been lucky enough to grow StoryLearning to a fairly big size, and I spend more time now actually talking about business, teaching business, helping other people grow their businesses. And so, I started a personal brand that is specifically focused on business. And I see myself doing this now for the next period of time. History would suggest it will be seven years, but we'll obviously wait to find out.

Jeremy Cline 3:08
You noticed any patterns that come around the time of each transition, so any particular thought patterns that continually arise or anything like that?

Olly Richards 4:08
For me, it's really a question of, you know when you have an idea or a thoughts, and the first time you have it, you're going to dismiss it. But the next week, it comes back, and then the week after, it comes back. And some of these thoughts and feelings are going to fall by the wayside, and others don't. They stick around, and they keep coming back. Generally speaking, it's been a case for me of having these particular urges, desires, interests, that just won't leave me alone. And after two or three years of doing battle with them, something happens in my life, an event of some kind, which then gives me the excuse to pursue those things. I could talk through each of those if you like, in each case. But generally, I'm not particularly impulsive in that sense, I don't make rash changes on a whim, but I think I'm someone who, once I've been thinking about something for long enough that it's clearly a thing for me, sooner or later, I know that I'm going to do it. And so, that's really what's precipitated each of those big changes.

Jeremy Cline 5:16
It's interesting. It's like there's an idea which keeps on knocking on the door, and eventually, you've got to open it and let it in.

Olly Richards 5:22
It's like that business idea that everyone has. Most of them kind of fall by the wayside. But the one that keeps coming back to you over and over again, sooner or later, you kind of have to scratch the itch, otherwise, you're forever asking what if.

Jeremy Cline 5:35
Let's look at some of these transitions. Now, I don't think anyone is under any illusions about how hard it can be to be a professional musician, and how much luck can be involved in order to get a break. So, why did you decide to do it when the odds seemingly could be stacked against you?

Olly Richards 5:55
Why did I start in the first place?

Jeremy Cline 5:57
Yeah.

Olly Richards 5:57
Well, you make these decisions when you're 16, 17, and you don't know any better. And that was certainly the case for me. I mean, I just loved, I fell head over heels in love with music. I'd always played classical piano as a kid, I became quite good, and then discovered jazz when I was about 16, 17. I actually found a teacher and told him I wanted to learn the blues, but he taught me jazz instead. And I'll be forever grateful for him. Because it's far more of an expansive world, jazz than blues. And I just fell head over heels in love with it. And then, I discovered that it was possible to actually go to London, go to a conservatory, and actually do a degree in jazz piano. And I thought, 'Why would I want to do anything else?' And at that age, there's no telling me otherwise. I remember my mom saying to me at the time, 'If you do this, you'll never make much money.' And I turned around, and I said, 'I don't care, I just want to play music.' So, that was my frame of mind, all the way.

Jeremy Cline 6:57
So, at the other end, what caused you to consider whether you wanted to stay doing that for any longer than you already had?

Olly Richards 7:06
I still try to work this out in my mind, and I'm not completely sure of the mechanics of the decision. So, there may be some narrative fallacy at play here. But the way that I think about it now is that I loved the music, but I didn't like the musicians' lifestyle. And still today, when I'm driving or working, I listen to jazz, it's the soundtrack to my life really. But to be a jazz musician, you've really got to devote your life to it. And this doesn't just mean practising and getting very good at your instrument, although that's a huge part of it, obviously. But in the jazz world, people like to play music with their friends and with other people that they like. And that's how bands are made, that's how invitations get made to join groups. And the more advanced you are in your career, the bigger and more important those invitations become. One of my best friends, for example, became the drummer with Robert Plant. I knew a guy who became the keyboard player for Pat Metheny. Two huge names. And these are the kinds of opportunities that come your way after a while. In order to do that, you really have to live the life through and through, which means going to all the gigs, going to all the jam sessions, hanging out with your friends all the time and saying yes to every opportunity, if you get a gig on the other side of the country last minute, you drop everything, and you go. It just wasn't for me. I think I was interested in too many other things. I enjoyed lots of other things in life beyond. I think I've always liked variety. And so, the intense single-track life of a jazz musician ended up just wearing me down. And it just wasn't, it wasn't for me. And I started to look for ways out subconsciously. I started to get interested in other kinds of music, I started to back off the jazz. My mind as a 20-, 21-, 22-year-old is a huge black box, I really can't decode it. All I can really do is observe my own behaviour. And usually, when we find ourselves pulling back from things, even if we don't know, there's a very, very good reason for it. And I think that's what it was for me.

Jeremy Cline 9:18
Okay, so the single-minded intensity, the focus on just that which would have been required in order to make a success at that as a career.

Olly Richards 9:30
I think that's what it is. It's long hours by yourself practising, it's foregoing other things. I loved language learning, that was a big passion of mine. I loved travelling. I loved hanging out with people from different countries and cultures in London. I had friends from all over the world. I just liked to do all these different things, and I was much more interested, I think, in a multicultural life in London and this world that I was just discovering, than I was doing endless midnight drives back from a gig on the other side of the country, and things like that. I mean, I don't mean to criticise it at all, because it's a fantastic life. And now, having lived a couple more decades and seeing the full menu of what life has to offer, I think it's a fantastic life. You just have to want it beyond a doubt, 110%.

Jeremy Cline 10:22
So, the transition then is into teaching. Did you ever think about combining the two, so in other words, teaching music, teaching jazz?

Olly Richards 10:30
Yeah, I actually did that for a while. So, I spent two or three years teaching as a peripatetic teacher in a school, and a couple of different schools. And that's, in fact, what most professional musicians gravitate towards over time, because it's the only way you can earn an income within sociable hours, basically. And so, essentially, when people get to family age, start getting married and having kids, if you're going to keep doing gigs in the evening and being away for weeks at a time, it's a very particular kind of lifestyle. And most people find themselves wanting to be at home in the evening, and not be on the road all the time. And so, they gravitate towards teaching, because it's a fairly good paycheck, and it's regular hours, and it's like nine-to-five, or eight-to-four, or whatever it may be. And so, I did a couple of days a week, teaching music in a school. I know what I wanted to do. I didn't want to teach music. The reason I got into music was to play it. I loved the music. That's what I loved to do. And I always had this lingering feeling that, as a music teacher, I failed, because it's just not what I wanted to do. Again, nothing against music teachers at all. It's a fantastic thing to do. But it's just not what I wanted to do. And I was very, very clear about that. So, the two or three years that I spent doing that was very much through gritted teeth, like most musicians at that stage.

Jeremy Cline 11:56
So, would you say that you found teaching, so to speak, through teaching music? Or was it something else that then led you to move into, I think it was teaching English you started with?

Olly Richards 12:09
Teaching English, that's right. So, I mean, in the background, the whole time I was doing music, I had spent my time learning languages. That was the thing that I really enjoyed doing. And so, I'd always had this slightly romantic vision of the English teacher, just travelling around the world, teaching English, meeting people, enjoying that kind of exotic life. I've known people that have done that. And it wasn't so much for the teaching, so much as this was the lifestyle. I think that sounded really, really fun. Travelling was always top of my list of things to do. And I think that because I was really into languages, and it's such a passion of mine, teaching English was something that I felt like I could bear a lot more than the music, which I'd got into for different reasons.

Jeremy Cline 13:06
This was very much about teaching English, but not in the UK education system. So, combining it with being abroad.

Olly Richards 13:14
Absolutely. Yeah, it was the English teacher life that I wanted. I thought to myself, 'Well, I haven't really got much else going for me, so I may as well at least do something that I enjoy and have some fun at the same time.' And so, once I got my qualification, I got a one-way ticket to Japan, spent three and a half years there, and it was the best time of my life. The work is hard, the pay is atrocious, but you feel like you're living. Deeply embedded in another culture, learning a lot about the world, it does wonders for your confidence, teaching, and your ability to work with people. So, yeah, I had a strong intuition that I would enjoy it and that I would be quite good at it because of my background in languages. And that proved to be the case.

Jeremy Cline 14:02
It's interesting to hear you say that, because teaching, certainly compared with being a professional musician, yes, it's more stable, it's more in demand, but teaching strikes me is a really, really hard thing to do.

Olly Richards 14:16
Yeah. I mean, I think maybe you have natural teachers. I mean, I do feel like I am a natural teacher type. I think that's why, when I started my business, StoryLearning, it was with the intention of teaching languages to other people, helping other people learn languages, even now with my business personal brand, I'm essentially teaching what I know. And I think it probably has a way, it has a connection, I think, with the way that I tick personally. Often, the way that I make sense of the world is by telling other people about it, much to the annoyance of people around me sometimes, but I think through talking, through explaining, when I'm talking about different things, that helps me clarify my own thoughts, my own ideas. I think I just gravitate towards it very naturally.

Jeremy Cline 15:12
Does teaching abroad come with the same baggage that I associate with teaching in the UK? I get the impression from speaking to teachers that the actual teaching bit is okay, it's just all the other rubbish that they have to put up with on top of it that makes it quite unbearable.

Olly Richards 15:30
So, the answer is no, actually. And that's one of the things that makes it quite attractive, certainly if not for an entire career, something to do for a period of time. Generally, as a teacher, your first couple of years are extremely intensive, as you're learning the ropes, just like most jobs. But after a couple of years, and it depends on exactly what your teaching context is, but for the most part, you're in and out with very little extra preparation involved. I mean, I remember always being shocked by the amount of admin that the teachers in the state system here had to contend with. It's really nothing like that. I mean, mostly, again, not always, but a lot of the times, you're teaching adults who are choosing to come in for a couple of hours once a week to learn English. There's no wraparound duty of care, like you have with a child in the education system, where as their teacher, you are responsible for much more than just whether they can tell you the date of the Battle of Bosworth. It's a lot more transactional, most people don't even want to take work home outside the classroom either. So, there isn't even really much marking to do. It's very unregulated, you have a lot of flexibility and discretion as the teacher. And you certainly work hard, you do a lot of teaching, little contact hours, I mean, it's very normal to do 25-30 contact hours a week, which I understand is a lot more than you might do in a regular state school, although, don't quote me on that, because I've never worked in one, but the benefit is, it comes without any of the associated admin for the most part.

Jeremy Cline 17:18
And that sounds like it was a much better fit for you. So, teaching in that environment worked for you, whereas teaching in a state school system possibly wouldn't have been.

Olly Richards 17:28
Absolutely not. I know myself well enough to know that that would have been a nightmare for me. I mean, I think what I most wanted, I wanted to explore the world. I've always been into languages, into travel. I mean, teaching English somewhere that was not abroad would not have worked for me.

Jeremy Cline 17:43
What led you to the places where you ended up teaching?

Olly Richards 17:48
So, in the first instance, Japan was just extremely appealing to me. I would have considered going to many other places. I think I looked at China, Taiwan. But I had friends in Japan who I'd met at music college. I've always been very interested, I'd been before, loved the country. And so, it was a foregone conclusion really. After that, when I moved to Qatar and to Egypt, that was because I started working for the British Council. Obviously, a huge governmental organisation, they have a fairly big career path baked into what they do. So, you can go from teaching to becoming management, to eventually moving into the more diplomatic side of things, becoming country directors. And that was quite appealing for me at the time, because I was early 30s, but I had nothing to my name. There was a point there where, I turned 30, and I looked at my life, I have absolutely nothing going for me. I had ditched the career that I had, that I thought I was passionate about, I had fallen out of love with. I'm now on the other side of the world, teaching. My salary in Egypt before I quit was 800 pounds a month. So, that's the level we're talking about. I was thinking I had not got much going for me here. So, when a career path did open up, and there were options to pursue that, I leapt at the opportunity really, so I started to apply for promotions. So, the path from teacher to senior teacher took me to Qatar. In English teaching world, going to the Middle East is like a fast track. It's like bankers who go to Hong Kong. It's like a fast track for your career. You get better jobs, and they're kind of home countries, if you'd like. And then, when I went from Qatar to Egypt, again, that was on a promotion. So, I was just chasing promotions, basically going where they were available, thinking that I didn't want to squander this opportunity that I had to progress and make something of myself. Because as much as I enjoyed teaching, I knew that I didn't want to be doing it at 60. So, given that, I decided to pursue the path in front of me.

Jeremy Cline 20:05
Curious, looking in hindsight at your thoughts then, so age 30, I had nothing going for me, which is not uncommon, people look around often at age 30 and think, 'Oh, God, what have I achieved? I really should grow up, maybe I should go and get a proper job.' I mean, in hindsight, was that justified? Was it real? Or is it just a story that we're conditioned to tell ourselves?

Olly Richards 20:34
So, I guess the context is that I'm comparing myself to friends of mine, who, by that point, were 10 years into a professional career in the city. And they're becoming partners in law firms and things like that. And so, because I had no other conception of what the world of work really was, I felt very quite inadequate, really. Now, the interesting thing is that, obviously, what I went on to do later was to start making a career for myself online using this knowledge that I had. So, just to skip forward, I started on one of these foreign postings blogging about the thing I'd always loved, which was language learning, purely out of passion and the need for a creative outlet. And then, it just so happened that I discovered that, hey, blogging is actually a thing, and there are people who are not only making money from blogging, earning a living from travelling the world, working part time on blogs. And when I discovered that that was a thing, then I started to learn a lot about it. And then, that ended up developing into the business that I have today. And so, as a musician at 28, or an English teacher at 31, or whatever it was, what I know now that I didn't know then was that I did actually have an extremely valuable skill set. I could speak, I taught myself eight languages, for goodness' sake, I was a very highly qualified English teacher, I'd done certificates, diplomas, Master's degree I even did. So, I had a lot to offer, really. And on the music side, I was a very, very accomplished musician. The big thing that the internet did when it really evolved was, it enabled people to connect one to many, in a way that previously only large publishers were able to do. So, if you wanted to connect to many people in the past, you had to be a publishing company, a media organisation, a film studio, that kind of thing. And the cost of production was huge. So, it wasn't open to individuals. What the internet did was, it enabled someone like me, who knew something about stuff, to go online and just teach it openly, build an audience who also wanted to learn those things, and then eventually transition that into a business. I now know that I could have done that, I could have taught music, I could have taught piano, I could have taught jazz, I could have taught English. It just so happens that I decided to teach foreign languages, which was a good move, because it's a very big industry, with lots of people with lots of spending power. So, it worked out well. But I could very easily have decided to do that with, say, piano, and there are plenty of people that teach music online, make millions of pounds a year teaching music online. So, yes, I had a huge amount going for me. What accounts for the difference is simply knowledge deficiency. I didn't realise at the time about the various economic models that facilitate online earning and online business, or even just the opportunities that come from media distribution, from one to many. I didn't understand that. And because of that, I didn't appreciate the options that were open to me. And so, the answer is, yeah, I actually had a huge amount going for me, but I just didn't know enough. Nobody at that time really knew enough to make the most of it.

Jeremy Cline 24:09
And I think this is an important point for two reasons. First of all, there's comparison, comparison being the thief of joy. And so, people looking at peers who are apparently highly successful partners in law firms, whatever it might be, but also putting a bit of effort into figuring out what you do have going for you, because you discovered, actually, you did have a heck of a lot of going for you. It might not have felt like it at the time, but you really did. And I think most people, when they say, 'Oh, I'm 30, I've wasted my life, all these friends of mine are much more successful than me', if people maybe just take a moment to step back and think, 'Well, what are the things that I've got going for me? What are the skills that I've picked out? What are the things that I've got, which I could use?', people would probably realise that there's an awful lot more than they think they've got.

Olly Richards 25:04
One of the programmes that we run at StoryLearning is called the Certificate of Online Language Teaching. So, we actually take people who want to work online and are into languages, and we train them to teach English or their mother tongue, or any language online. And that includes both the skill of teaching itself, plus how to attract students and build their own tutoring business from it. Now, what's interesting about that is that, when we start talking about the business side of things, one of the key tenets of what we teach is that you have to have something that's unique about you, something that's marketable about you. Because rather than saying, 'I teach English to anyone who wants lessons', it's much more effective to come out and say, 'I teach businesspeople to get competent presentations at work', for example, and then to become the best that you can at that particular niche. So, we train people to market themselves with very, very specific skill sets, because it's a lot easier to attract people that way. But when we begin this process, everyone has the same reaction. 'There's nothing special about me, I don't have any skill, I don't have any talents, there's nothing unique. What do I have to offer? Why would anyone want to learn from me?' We hear it day in day out. But reliably, as soon as we dig in and ask people, 'What is your job? What have you done? What skills do you have?', invariably, there are huge amounts of even the most seemingly mundane jobs that have got huge amounts of potential if applied in other spaces. So, just to give you an example, I remember once receiving an email from someone saying, 'I've got the most boring job on the planet, all I do is I type up management reports for an IT company, and it's the dullest thing on the planet.' And so, I replied, and this was someone who was considering teaching English online, and so I asked them, 'Okay, well, how many people out there do you think work in IT companies around the world?' Millions. How many of them work in the English-speaking IT company or an IT company where English is the operational language, the operative language? Again, millions. How many of those people would move faster and further in their career if they spoke better English? All of them. How many of them need to use email or write reports or otherwise convey information by text in English? Probably most of them. So, actually, by virtue of being a native English speaker and having two decades of experience working within IT companies, your knowledge base is incredibly valuable for someone in, say, your Southeast Asian middle-class person who wants to get a job and migrate to the US with an American IT company. Really, their language skills and ability are a huge factor in determining their success with that. And so, for them to be able to tap into the knowledge and experience of someone with your skill set is just huge.' And that right there becomes the basis of an economic model that can allow for someone to then build their own, business sounds very grand, but that is really what it is, it's about attracting people from around the world via the Internet and then offering a service in return.

Jeremy Cline 28:29
Almost like a Venn diagram, isn't it? It's finding that intersection between the two worlds and making that sliver where they overlap your niche.

Olly Richards 28:37
It's exactly that. Yeah.

Jeremy Cline 28:39
You mentioned that when you started the blog, it was a creative outlet, a hobby. How did that become a business?

Olly Richards 28:47
Great question. Okay. So, I could write an entire book on that, but I'll give you the brief version. So, by writing a blog, what I started to do was to build a following. And this was a following of people who just wanted to hear what I had to say about language learning. So, I was writing things like, if you're learning Spanish, here's how to memorise vocabulary so that you can learn faster. Here's what to do if you struggle with grammar. All those kinds of things, how to get better at language learning. There are hundreds of millions of people around the world learning languages. And so, I grew a following of people who were interested in the sorts of things that I was saying about language learning. Fast forward a couple of years, I now had 20-30,000 people a month coming to my website, reading my thoughts on language learning. I also asked those people to sign up to my email newsletter, where I would send email tips about more language learning stuff. And I was operating from a place of open-hearted teaching. There was no holding back, I wasn't charging money, I was teaching everything I knew. And so, objectively, for the audience, here was an opportunity to learn from someone who was quite accomplished in languages, which is something that they wanted to do. I was just there freely teaching it. It's not the kind of thing that in the past you would have had access to. But by writing my blog, I was providing that information. Now, with tens of thousands of people in my audience monthly, and my email list growing to thousands of people, all I needed to do at a certain point was to turn around and say, 'I write about language learning week in week out, but it's a bit disorganised, every week is a different topic. I've created a course where I show you from A to Z exactly what to do to learn a language quickly, based on my 15 years of experience doing it. It would cost you $100, and it's there, and it's available, if you want it.' It only takes a relatively small percentage of people in that audience that I built at that point to say, 'Oh, yes, please, I'd really like that, I'd really benefit from that, and $100 is a bargain of the price', to start to generate quite large amounts of revenue. And that's the fundamental, those are the cogs and the working pieces of the business and how it functions. And that's how I started to generate income. From there, it's really a case of doing more of that. And it's one of the big secrets to building a business, to do more of the stuff that's already working. So, I made more courses, wrote more blogs, built a bigger audience. So, those fundamental dynamics that we're making, they're made for the foundation of a business, I just doubled down on and did a lot more of, and that really, in a very simplistic way, was the difference between just having a blog that I did for free to generating millions of dollars in revenue.

Jeremy Cline 31:53
And where did you learn some of these things? Because there must have been something which made you think, 'I should start collecting email addresses.' And then, there must have been something which made you think, 'Hey, I've got all this knowledge, it's all scattered around, I wonder if people will pay for courses.' So, where did all that come from?

Olly Richards 32:10
It came from other people doing exactly what I was doing. So, when I first started, I started a blog, and I went on to the iTunes podcast. I think it's designed with, Apple podcasts didn't exist, but iTunes, right? I went to the iTunes directory, and I searched for blogging, and I've subscribed to 10 podcasts that taught blogging. Of those, two or three were really good. So, I just listened to them. Turns out, they were following the exact same model for blogging and online business as I was for languages, freely teaching stuff. And they would teach me things like, consistency is the number one thing when it comes to content creation, because that's how you build an audience. Things like, email list is something you should do from day one, because sales is mostly done through email, which is not obvious to people. Perhaps things like SEO, search engine optimisation is key, because that's how you attract people on Google. So, when someone goes to Google and types in, 'How to learn a language fast?', they find me rather than somebody else. All of these things are taught freely on podcasts and blogs, now on YouTube as well, and even TikTok, apparently, although I try to stay as far away from that as I possibly can. But all that is out there for free, all of this information is out there for free. It wouldn't surprise me if you could learn open heart surgery on YouTube now, honestly. And so, I learned from them. And then, from time to time, those people would release courses, and those courses provided the structured solution for what they were teaching in order to save time. So, I said yes, please, put down my money to buy those courses, which by the way, why I recommend people always keep their main job while starting a business, because that gives you money to buy education, which is then how you progress. And so, I followed step by step, build an audience, build a course, automate that course, make another one, get better at writing, sales, sales pages, learn to write sales copy, all of these things. And I invested in my education, I took courses, I learned, I listened, I read, and I just got a little bit better every year. But it's all out there to be freely consumed.

Jeremy Cline 34:23
So, as you move now to the next stage of your career in business life, what would you say is your business at the moment? Is it still the language teaching courses, that kind of thing? Or has it kind of evolved from there?

Olly Richards 34:38
Yeah, so I mean, at the moment, I am involved in quite a few different businesses. And the reason for that is that, as StoryLearning has grown, and I've had more assets at my disposal, both in terms of cash being the obvious one, but also knowledge, I've had a lot of opportunities to get involved in other businesses. So, for example, I often invest in other companies in the language learning space, start-ups and things like that, where I feel like the product is a good one, and I have a way of adding value beyond, that will create a kind of unfair advantage of any kind. And this is really one of the secrets to investing, is always only investing into things where you've got an unfair advantage. So, for example, I invested into a face-to-face language tutoring company. And the reason was that we didn't offer that service at StoryLearning. And so, I thought that I would be able to use the audience of millions of people that I built to send them to this tutoring company, thereby helping them to grow. So, huge synergy, a real advantage, and I then get to benefit from the equity growth in that company. So, I'm involved in quite a few different things like this. And those mostly don't take up too much of my time. Within StoryLearning itself, we're a fairly big business now, with 15 or so full time, or permanent, not everyone's full time, but permanent staff who run the business. So, there's not a great deal of my time required inside the business itself. So, that's partly why I decided to just start spending time writing my business newsletter, because again, where we began the interview, over time, I have started really thinking more about, I feel like I've become more of an expert in the online business space than I have in languages really, or at least as much of one. Because that's where I spent the last 10 years doing in building StoryLearning and helping various other friends with their businesses. And so, I just felt, it was last year actually, I kind of did a lot of thinking about my, quote-unquote, 'career', such as it is, and thinking to myself, where's my personal store of value in the marketplace? And I felt like I was very, it's not so much I was over indexed on the language side of things, because that is a significant part of what I built, but I felt very under indexed in terms of business, because I would tend to have so many people coming to me and asking, 'How do I do this? How do I do that?', other people with newer businesses, but I was just helping people by telling WhatsApp voice message and stuff, you know, people just text me. And I felt like, given the knowledge I've got, it was being very underutilised. So, that's why I decided to start the newsletter, because I wanted to, this is the natural teacher in me really, I wanted to be able to record this knowledge really just for the sake of teaching it. And so, I committed to growing, really going back to the beginning, building an audience again, starting from the beginning, this is why I'm doing podcasts, because some people will hear me and want to hear more, so they'll come over to my newsletter and sign up. So, I committed to doing a podcast a week. So, it's the same old blueprint, the blueprint that I'm using right now to build this business personal brand is something that anyone can use to build any personal brand on anything. It's what you're doing right now with this podcast, right? So, right now, I don't sell anything, and I don't really intend to for the foreseeable future, but I know that two, three years down the line, I will have this audience for the business brand, and should I want to, I will be able to start making products or services of some kind. Again, I don't plan to, because I don't really want to create another job for myself, so to speak. But I have the option, and I like having fingers in different pies. It keeps me interested. It's been engaged, and I like having options and optionality from a business perspective.

Jeremy Cline 38:51
So, it's almost like a rinse and repeat. Your knowledge was the language, the language learning, and so you built up the following, and then you started to sell things to teach that. And now, it's the business side where you've got the knowledge, and you're spreading the word through your newsletter, through speaking on podcasts. And as you say, maybe in the future, if you decide to, you can start to introduce paid elements to that.

Olly Richards 39:15
That's it. It really is very simple. At the heart, some people often describe this as the creator economy. I'm not a big fan of the word creator. I think it minimises the business skills that one needs to learn to do this properly. But if we use that word for a moment, because it's quite widely understood, at the core, this is someone who has valuable knowledge that other people will gladly pay to learn. And that's it. In the past, this was learned from books or from expensive university degrees, or on the job training at your big corporate job. Now, you're able to learn it from individuals, and so many people do, because they prefer to learn from human beings than from the pages of a big corporate publication. And that really is the opportunity for everybody, as the economy shifts towards this new direction.

Jeremy Cline 40:11
As you look back over your career to date, do you identify any, if you like, red threads, which have kind of always been present, right back from jazz musician, through teacher, through language teacher, through businessperson?

Olly Richards 40:27
It's something I've been thinking about recently, and I mentioned it a few times, I think it is the desire fundamentally actually to connect with people. I'm a big people person. I'm not an extrovert, actually, I'm more of an introvert than an extrovert, or at the most an ambivert. But I really thrive on connecting with people over ideas. And that's the teacher in me, I think. That might be to oversimplify it, but I feel like that's my core value, or one of them. It is teaching. When I taught music, although I didn't like it, I was good at it. I think it's why I was attracted to teaching English, because I was able to be there and work directly with people to help them learn things. It's what I did with StoryLearning, just helping people learn languages, and it's what I'm doing now with business. So, if I wasn't like that, I wouldn't do it. Because, like I said, I follow my gut on these things. So, I think that, really, that is probably at the core of my identity, this willingness and desire to teach things. And with hindsight, it's quite fortunate, really, because of the way that the new online economy works, being a teacher type, and being someone who is comfortable and willing to share knowledge works very much to your advantage.

Jeremy Cline 41:47
And where to next? Five years', 10 years' time, what would you like to have achieved?

Olly Richards 41:53
Recently, I've actually just this morning texted a friend of mine, who's a very successful entrepreneur herself. And I asked her if we could have a chat later this week, because it's something that's been on my mind very much, because I've been doing this for the best part of 10 years now, I feel like I'm on a bit of a hamster wheel, to be honest, in the sense of going through the motions, like you just said, rinse and repeat, more of the same. Because I know how to do it, it's almost on autopilot to do it. And I've started to feel that, I think it's perfectly good and reasonable to keep doing what I'm doing, but I feel like I am undervaluing, or otherwise under appreciating other things that I care about in life. And so, actually, the thing that I'm thinking most about is how to step back a little bit from the business side of things and have the courage. It's very difficult to do, because there's always more, and it's very difficult to stop doing something when you've got momentum. But I am fairly convinced that money is not the answer to most things. And so, continuing to pursue more growth and more money for the sake of it is not wise. Knowing that and being able to behave accordingly are two different things. And I feel like I am a little bit out of alignment with that. So, the thing that I would most like to be spending my time doing right now, for example, is to be focus a lot more on health and fitness. I'm 42, I feel like I have less energy than I did in the past, I want to stay healthy, I want to stay mobile, all of these things. I'd like to spend a lot more time focusing on that. And I'd really like to spend a lot more time improving my Japanese, because Japan and Japanese, for me, is a huge part of my life. I go to Japan regularly. I do speak Japanese, but I've under achieved in that area, compared to how much I would like. I'd like to be a lot better than I am. And so, I'm kind of fighting this internal battle around having the courage and the confidence to deliberately pull back from business stuff, in order to create more space for other things in my life. And I feel like it's very difficult to do. And we've all met seemingly miserable rich people. They're more common than you'd like to think. And I think, most of the time, so many of us live very unexamined lives as it is, I'm kind of at a point where I'm looking at my life, the trajectory of my life, and I'm thinking, 'Well, if not now, then when?' I'm in a position where I can spend more time doing the things that I want to. So, why on earth aren't I? That's, I think, going to be the battle for me for the next few years.

Jeremy Cline 44:55
Well, that's a really interesting place to finish this Interview. And I'm going to be fascinated to find out, hopefully, where that goes, what happens next. Olly, on your journey, you mentioned other blogs, other resources, which have helped you, are there any which you'd particularly like to give a favoured mention to, so that other people can check them out?

Olly Richards 45:21
We mentioned a couple of times about my blog when I first started it. And you know, the one thing that we didn't mention is why I decided to actually start a blog, or why a blog, it's not an obvious thing to do if you're interested in something, why a blog? The reason I started a blog was because I had read a book called The $100 Startup, by a chap called Chris Guillebeau. And that book, without a doubt, changed my life. Because in that book, I read the story of a chap called Benny Lewis, who was a language blogger, had already been at that point a language blogger for four or five years. And he was travelling the world, making a full-time living from his blog, and he was blogging about languages. And I thought, 'Stone the crows! If he can do it, then so can I.' And the very next day, I started up a blog, directly because of what I read in that book. And what's super interesting is that this new creator economy that we've mentioned, again, a few times, is exactly the same as it was back then. If there are any differences, there's far more tools to help you, the ecosystem for, I mean, you wouldn't believe how difficult it was to start a podcast back in 2013. Oh, my God, it was crazy! YouTube was barely a thing. Blogging was pretty much the same as it still is now. But the point being that, the principles in that book, what that book did was, it showed me what's possible, and it just opened my eyes to the fact that you can make a living online, doing something you love. I didn't know that before. And so, given the dynamics of all of this are still the same in 2023, as they were in 2013, when I read this book, I would encourage everyone to pick up a copy and go and read it. It's very, very interesting, a very easy read, and may well change your life.

Jeremy Cline 47:22
If people want to find you and get a hold of you and subscribe to your newsletter, where should they go?

Olly Richards 47:27
If you want to subscribe to my business newsletter where I talk about this kind of stuff, you can go to ollyrichards.co. And then, when you sign up to the newsletter, you will get a free 118-page case study of my business, StoryLearning. I was only going to spend two days on this; I ended up spending about four months. I basically wrote a book that explains exactly how StoryLearning works. So, if you're interested from a technical point of view and the behind the scenes of how a 10-million-dollar business actually runs, that's there, and it's free when you sign up. I'm also on YouTube, making business videos there, my whole language business as well, if you'd like to learn a language, or just check out what I'm doing now, you can go to storylearning.com. You can also find me on YouTube. So, unhelpfully, if you search Olly Richards on YouTube, you're going to get both the business thing and the language thing. So, it should be fairly obvious which is which from the general appearance of the stuff.

Jeremy Cline 48:23
Well, I'll certainly put links to all of those in the show notes. Olly, thank you so much for coming on and for sharing your story. It's been fantastic talking to you.

Olly Richards 48:32
Well, great questions, and I thoroughly enjoyed it myself. Thank you.

Jeremy Cline 48:35
Okay, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Olly Richards. I thought it was fascinating hearing about Olly's career to date. On the one hand, he has certainly shown some intention in setting up his businesses, but on the other, his career has kind of evolved, particularly when he was starting out. It just goes to show that you can spend a bit of time in exploration, figuring out what you enjoy, figuring out what you might do next. Yes, it can certainly help if your next thing leverages your experience from your last thing. But you definitely don't have to follow a linear path. And a theme which comes up so often is that of transferable skills, and in particular, the belief that so many of us have that we just don't have the transferable skills. Age 30, Olly described how he didn't really have anything going for him, or at least he thought he didn't really have anything going from him. But he came to realise that, given his background and experience, he really did. There was a lot of experience and a lot of skills which he could take into the next phase of his career. He described how he identified where he had an unfair advantage, and he used that. You'll find show notes for this episode at changeworklife.com/175, that's changeworklife.com/175, with the usual transcript and a summary of everything we talked about. And if you have trouble identifying your transferable skills and maybe your unfair advantage, well, sometimes you can't read the label when you're inside the bottle, as one of my favourite creators says. It can take some external perspective to help you draw these sorts of things out. And that's one of the things that coaching can do for you. I remember one conversation I had with a coaching client where he was looking to go for a management position, and he said, 'Yeah, but I just don't have any experience of management.' And then, I reminded him of the five things he just told me, which were clear examples of things he'd been doing as a manager, even if he wasn't formally one. So, if you'd like to explore what working with me might look like, then take a look at changeworklife.com/coaching, that's changeworklife.com/coaching, and book a conversation with me. In two weeks' time, we're going to be talking about stories. Stories have been talked about quite a lot in the corporate world. But what about how stories can help you with job searches, interviews, appraisals, you name it. If you'd like to find out how telling stories can help you, then make sure that you subscribe to the podcast, and I can't wait to see you in two weeks' time. Cheers. Bye.

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