I spoke to Cathy Heller, host of the Don't Keep Your Day Job podcast, about what inspired her to start her podcast, how she grew her audience, get sponsors, how to quit your job, how to select a side hustle to pursue, how she overcame adversity and her best career advice.
Heller has licensed her own music hundreds of times to film, TV and ads and has been featured in Billboard, LA Weekly and Variety. She went on to start her own licensing company, Catch the Moon Music, and she's been very successful now pitching other artists. Through her podcast, she’s interviewed Bobbi Brown, Gretchen Rubin, Jonathan Adler and many others.
Dan Schawbel: What inspired you to start your podcast and what methods did you originally use to grow the audience into a show with sponsors?
I want to see people feeling more fulfilled.I have been surrounded my whole life by people who are frustrated and struggling with depression. It’s so sad and unnecessary sometimes. In my own journey I have commited to figuring out a way to do the things I’m most passionate about full time and I’ve seen it work more than once. I wanted to share that with other people. I wanted to help people get out of their own way by reminding them that just because they think something negative doesn't mean it’s true. I want to remind them what they're capable of and also give them practical advice so they can do the thing they most want to do with their lives. In my opinion, the best way to make the world a better place is for each one of us to be the happiest version of ourselves. Everyone has something unique to contribute and I think what people are most in search of is a sense of purpose, so I guess this is my way of doing my part to help make the world brighter. I know how much people underestimate themselves and so much good stuff never sees the light of day because people stand in their own way, so I wanted to get that good stuff out there.
Someone told me there’s a line in the Talmud that says “ Words from the Heart Speak to the Heart”. I started the show as a side hustle to my music biz, with no notoriety, no famous last name, no email list, no publicist, no marketing department, no talent booker but I had a genuine desire to say something valuable and I was committed to give it my all. I didn’t overthink it so much, I just jumped in with both feet, as I often do. I was pleasantly surprised that Apple featured us for our first episode in New and Noteworthy, which brought in some listeners, but then it was up to me to keep them subscribed. I just pressed on and showed up each week and tried to be as authentic and inspiring as possible. I started sending emails to try and book famous interesting people to be guests on my show. Amazingly people started to accept the invites and I had lots of great creative entrepreneurs on the show. I also just organically started to do other things like create a Facebook Group where I could wrangle listeners and have conversations with them about their goals. I started to listen to what they wanted and create episodes that spoke to their needs and questions. I began creating cheat sheets that I made available for download and did whatever I could outside of the actual weekly episodes to deliver value.
Schawbel: A lot of employees are afraid to quit their jobs to start their own businesses. How can they ease out of their job and into something they're passionate about?
I’m a big fan of starting a side hustle. I think it’s great to give yourself the time to build a runway before you take the leap and have something to jump to that’s already got momentum. People underestimate what they can do with very little time. Research shows that what we all need to be more productive isn’t more hours, but more energy. If we fill ourselves with the mental bandwidth and have the energy to rip open our goals, then we can accomplish a lot. It’s smart to write down goals and then be as specific as possible when creating some clear daily action steps you can take towards meeting your goals. So take out a sheet of paper and write at the top what you want to do “Open a bakery”, “Start an Etsy Shop”, “Be cast in a play”. Then start to make a list of what things you can do daily to get you there. “Buy ingredients”, “Do a bake sale” “Go to a farmers market”, “Rent kitchen space” , “Do research on coffee shops I can sell my pastries to wholesale” , you get the point. When we take small steps everyday, we’ll see things begin to take form. Soon we can decide to work part time and eventually to quit the day job and do what we love full time. I always had a side hustle and then moved into that full time. It works!
Schawbel: A lot of people have 'side hustles' these days because they have other interests out of work or they want to switch jobs. What's the best way to choose a side hustle and then parlay that into a business?
I know so many people struggle with trying to figure out what they should focus on. It can become this big existential crisis. They say analysis leads to paralysis. I want to remind everyone that life can be in pencil. Sometimes the path isn’t a straight line. You can throw yourself into one project and then start to see where it leads you. I recently talked on my podcast about how “Alignment is the new Hustle”. It’s so important to take action and DO, but it’s essential that we look for feedback and see where the world is directing us. What doors are opening and where are there dead ends? Overtime our job is to keep turning that rubix cube until we figure out what it is that we are supposed to do. There is a thing that we love to do that the world needs or wants. When things start to flow in one area often that’s a sign that we’re contributing and working on our lives purpose. You need to trust that you will be led to where you most can serve and contribute to the world.
Schawbel: You've had a successful career in the arts but I'm sure it hasn't been easy. How were you able to break through the media and advertising world despite the competition and obstacles?
It’s a lot of polite persistence. My husband says I have the will of a small country. I’m committed to see my goals through. I’m also very personable. I believe that selling anything is about making relationships and I like people and I care about people, so that part comes easily for me. Also, I make a life out of anticipating what people need. I don’t ask people to help me or give me opportunities. I work ahead of time to show up with whatever I think I can offer to solve their problems. So in the music world, I decided to become my own agent and contact people at ad agencies and at tv, film studios completely cold. I would do my homework to figure out what kinds of songs they usually need. I would create them ahead of time and then I would reach out with something very personable and out of the box. I didn’t send businessy type notes. I would make it short and sweet and bring up stuff that had nothing to do with music. I wound up having conversations with people about marriage, kids, buying houses, fertility struggles, vacations and everything else. Once you have a relationship with a person and you can help them, opportunities will flow.
Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice?
1. Get quiet and ask yourself what is the thing that you’ve always loved to do, that you’ve been told you’re great at. Usually in our lives it’s already been identified, so while people think the thing is outside of them, it’s usually about figuring out what you’re already great at that you’re over looking.
2. Decide to commit to taking massive action and work on your goals everyday.You don’t need to know the next 45 steps, just ask yourself what’s the next possible thing you can do today? Is it putting up an etsy shop, is it creating a facebook live, is it creating a blog post, is it recording a podcast, is it setting a lunch meeting , is it making jewlery, is it writing a chapter of the book, is it researching the buyers at various shops you need to call. Keep taking the next step and soon you’ll be well on your way.
3. We can talk about logistical challenges all day and it’s important to put tangible things in place, but the biggest obstacle we all face is our limiting beliefs about ourselves and our fears about our own inadequacy. We have to take a hard look at what tapes our playing on repeat all day long inside our minds and decide to take responsibility for changing that. We need to make it a must to have a daily routine that energizes us and reminds us of how capable we are. Whether it’s exercise, meditation, talking to a friend, having a mentor, listening to a podcast or journaling, we must make it a priority to make sure our own internal batteries are always charged with empowering thoughts, otherwise we won't do anything.