About This Episode
Today’s guest for this episode is Sean Cannell, CEO of Think Media and co-founder of Video Influencers. He is a YouTuber, and an international speaker and coach, helping entrepreneurs build their influence and income through online video. He is also a pastor at their local church.
Most people are familiar with him through YouTube, where his channel Think Media has over 2 million followers. Through his tech reviews, camera tutorials, and YouTube growth videos, he assists aspiring and veteran YouTubers in taking their channels to the next level.
His book, YouTube Secrets, is available on Amazon. The first edition was published in 2018, and the second edition was updated with additional chapters to help you dominate YouTube in the new decade.
Let’s take a look at the inspiring and insightful conversation Sean and Tristan had about his YouTube career.
The beginning of Sean’s YouTube journey
Before YouTube, Sean’s background was deeply rooted in video and church. Back in 2003, when cameras still had tapes instead of SD cards, Sean would shoot videos for his local youth group.
In 2007, just two years after YouTube launched, their church started a YouTube channel. Back then, there was a 15-minute time limit on videos you could upload, and there were no custom thumbnails. He gained a headstart on YouTube from his early exposure through the church, and it was a great time to experiment with content and make mistakes.
He also started a video production company called Clear Vision Media, and he would film events like weddings or get requests to film the performances of local bands.
Then, in 2009, Sean was hit with the hardest season of his life. Three big things happened: the housing bubble burst, and he and his wife were affected by it. Then, the senior leaders of their local church where Sean was working as part-time staff stole some of the money, causing problems for the church and shaking Sean’s trust in its leaders.
But the worst of it was when his wife got sick after contracting an unknown virus on her Philippines mission trip.
She was undiagnosed for years, and after complications from a medical mistake brought her to the hospital, where she was unconscious for days, Sean had time to reassess his options to pull through this hard time.
For six days, he was sitting in the hospital watching over his wife. The one thing Sean was holding onto was the philosophy that “If you are going through hell, keep going.”
“'Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,’ I think the key is that if you are in the shadow of death, that’s not where you want to set up camp. You've got to keep going. You gotta keep walking,” Sean says.
During those six days, Sean came across a Success magazine issue (with the CD inside) where they invited Gary Vaynerchuck as a guest. Gary was blowing up on Twitter and has a very huge online presence on social media, and in the CD, he was talking about his book called “Crush It!: Why NOW Is the Time to Cash In on Your Passion.”
Sean’s main takeaway from that is “If you have a talent, a passion, a gift, you can start sharing that online, but you can also monetize that.” He decides to buy Gary’s book, and it was that transformational experience that led him to his YouTube career.
During a tough time when he was at the crossroads, worried about his wife, and worried for their future, he found motivation. It is called mortality motivation.
“They say when someone comes face to face with death, in this case, I watched my wife come face to face with death, it shifts your perspective. You start saying, ‘Am I really living all-in?’ You start thinking that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed,” shares Sean.
“If things are falling apart around us, and houses and churches are falling apart, then I got to rise up. I can either stay where I’m at, or I can keep walking through the valley of the shadow of death and just hope that there is a light at the other side at the end of this thing.” –Sean Cannell
That sparked the fire in Sean, which led him to figure out how to YouTube for a living and build his own business. At the same time, he wanted to teach others how to monetize their passion, reach more people with their message, and build their business with the power of online video on YouTube–and the fire hasn’t stopped.
Looking back, Sean admits that clarity didn’t come to him that easily. “Why” he chose YouTube didn’t come instantly to him, but it was a product of considering the three Ps. These three Ps could also serve as your guidelines in figuring out your niche and your place on YouTube, and in the social media landscape.
What will you talk about on YouTube or TikTok? What are the things that you are passionate about and gravitate towards? What are the things that feed your curiosity? It can be your experience in finance and taxes, it could also be something as simple as a hobby—snowboarding, classic rock, etc. You can brainstorm five to ten of your passions that can become possible topics for your YouTube content.
Now that you have a list of your passions, which one are you most knowledgeable about? What do other people seek you out for the most? Proficiency speaks a lot about what others see in you.
Sean went through an identity crisis because he was a pastor, but most people came to him to ask about what cameras to buy. That is when it became clear to him that video is the theme that fits both his passion and proficiency. But, it also fits the last P, which is profit.
According to Sean, “If you want to make a living from this, or add on an extra six-figure to your business, or practice, or coaching, you've got to figure out what the business model is for this.”
The truth is, you can monetize everything with YouTube, but some niches are more monetizable than others. Figure out your business model and your TAM (total addressable market).
Video Influencers is a project he works on with Benji Travis, who also co-authored YouTube Secrets with him. Although the project is currently on pause, he and Benji worked together on the audible version of the book.
In Video Influencers, Benji and Sean interview top YouTubers to share their success stories, and from them, gather best practices that can be transferable to other niches. And YouTube Success, 2nd Ed. is the accumulation of all they learned from those top YouTubers in different industries.
Why not “The Tech Pastor"?
Tristan asks Sean an interesting question: “Why shift completely over to this whole teaching of video and tech cameras, and not bring any of that pastorly world, that biblical world, [into your channel]?”
Sean admits it was a hard transition, but for him, his channel Think Media still stood on the foundation of his belief, which is Christ.
He shares about the biblical conviction he got to follow God’s call in his life, by seeing how his old local church did ministry in the marketplace. He also got clarity from Bill Bright’s teaching (the Seven Mountains), and Gabe Lyons’ book called “The Next Christians.”
“When it comes to ministry, one aspect of that is the church. But there’s also a thought that God is so much bigger than the church. What about the mountain or sphere of society that is family? What about the media? Entertainment? Finance? Business? ” Sean says.
For him, once a pastor, always a pastor. He makes sure to nurture his team at Think Media. But it doesn’t mean he needed to make camera reviews weird. He doesn’t have to force spirituality into his content, he just has to live it. He doesn’t see the need to over-spiritualize his Youtube strategy.
The way he applies Christ, and his spirituality and theology to Think Media is through the deeper ethics and philosophies that serve as the company’s mission and vision.
“My hope is that we [Think Media] want to help 10,000 purpose-driven people, not just figure out how to make a living on YouTube, but also really figure out how to make a difference and share messages that matter,” Sean shares. “I also come from the perspective—I believe Martin Luther King said—I’m not here to curse the darkness, but I’m here to light a lamp. So, we’re trying to light a match and hope others do the same.”
There are people on social media that you wouldn’t want your kids to follow. And Think Media is trying to champion grace, love, mercy, and truth—that’s the heart of Think Media.
Doing God’s work your way through YouTube
It all boils down to theology. As a pastor ministering in the marketplace, Sean thinks it is possible to have the wrong theology.
For example, some people would think ambition is bad. But, it is actually a good thing. What you need to guard yourself against is toxic ambition.
Ambition is a biblical mandate, “Be fruitful and multiply.” For Sean, it is important to have the vision to become a good steward. That includes entrepreneurship, family, and your influence on other people and the community.
A lot of people are so fixated on the numbers: earning more money, gaining more followers, getting more subscribers, and getting more fame. And sometimes, they take it to the extreme.
That’s why Sean says the mission of his company is to “help 10,000 purpose-driven people create a full-time living doing what they love while making a difference in the world with YouTube,” but there is a final sentence in that mission statement. That is, “To experience success without losing your soul.”
Proverbs says, “An inheritance gained too early won’t be blessed in the end.” And it is true. It doesn’t mean people should step away from social media. It means you need to build a character that is strong enough to hold you so that you won’t be crushed by success.
“That’s why, at the deepest level, I actually think if any culture needs biblical values, it’s the social media culture,” Sean says. “Money is not the root of all evil. The love of money is the root of evil. We need to use money as a tool. Social media is also an incredible tool to grow our businesses, reach more people, and spread messages that matter.”
Which social media platform should you be on?
Sean says if he were to start from scratch today, he would make a video podcast. The playbook is this: make quality content and post it regularly on YouTube, and repurpose that content into shorts, vertical videos, or reels to blast on other platforms.
He would still choose YouTube as his main platform because it functions as both a content library and a search engine. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feed content, but YouTube is like Google (it is owned by Google) but for videos.
Curation works well for businesses. All your content is there, and the longer you post content and build your channel, the more you’ll earn. Sometimes you gain new viewers recently, and they resonate with your content, so they start looking for older videos that they might also enjoy. So, even videos you posted years ago can still earn you money today, as long as they keep getting new views.
But you also have to maximize your presence in different avenues, and different social media platforms behave differently. That’s where repurposing content comes in, to make new content from existing ones that fits the other social media landscapes.
“Where should you be when it comes to social media? The answer is everywhere,” Sean says. “How many people do you want to reach? How big do you want your business to grow? The challenge and the bottleneck is the execution, and the system to build around the omnipresent strategy is distributing your content across multiple platforms.”
The question you should be asking is, “What is it worth to you?” Not only that, what will happen to you if you don’t position yourself as the go-to authority in your niche, build your brand, and get on to these platforms where this generation and the next generation's attention are focused? And how much upside is there when you build the skill set, the confidence, sales, and the library of content?
“If you do YouTube right, your videos work for you even when you’re not working. And they truly are like real estate. “Video estate," means hey are still going up in value, still getting views, and still bringing you leads. I have 10-year-old videos that still bring me money and make new leads,” Sean says.
YouTube has high leverage in terms of giving value, building your business, and generating passive income. Will it be easy? No.
Will you have to learn a new skill? Absolutely.
But looking at it long-term, it is worth it.
Clarity and Consistency
How do you build clarity and consistency in YouTube content and creation?
Clarity is built with some market research. Get to know your competitors and the audiences they have. Figure out what you can do to be different. According to Sally Hogshead, “Your goal is not to be better. Your goal is to be different, "she writes in her book, “Different is Better than Better.”
For example, John Lee Dumas, author of The Common Path to Uncommon Success, started an entrepreneur podcast. Some people might say that the niche is saturated, but what Dumas did differently is he catered his podcasts to people who commute to work.
Sean says you can also try to niche down, sometimes until it hurts. When he wrote his first book, it was called “YouTube for Churches.” He was scared to write it because it was too niche. He thought it would make his world too small.
But what happened was that he became known as the number one expert on YouTube for churches, for one simple reason: he was the only one. And what he thought would make his world small, actually made it bigger–churches started calling him and hiring him to help them with their entire social media strategy.
Another thing to consider in building clarity is to think about what you love. Your content’s purpose is to serve others, but it also serves you. Doing interviews allows you to learn new things and meet more people, thus expanding your network. Product reviews allow you to try different products, and if you get sponsorship, you can try them for free, or for a reduced price.
There are a lot of different ways you might position yourself to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.
As for consistency, Sean says there are many tips one can give on how to stay consistent.
According to Steve Jobs, “Business is a game of attrition.”
If you remain standing and stay consistent for five to seven years, sometimes the reason you win is because everybody else quits.
“Sometimes, overnight success just takes 5 to 10 years,” Sean says.
Think Media took twelve years to become the overnight success that it is.
“Cream always rises to the top no matter how many cups of coffee you pour.” –Sean Cannell
Some people get lucky and suddenly go viral. But luck is when preparation and opportunity meet.
Another thing that could help you be consistent is if you have a strong enough vision and reason to do what you're doing.
“I’ve learned that reasons come first, results come second,” Sean says. For him, his wife and his family are the biggest driving force behind his vision. And his faith and his mission are the reasons he wants to make his platform the biggest–because he hopes to influence as many people as he can positively.
“My reasons, some would argue, are probably stronger than some of my competitors. Some of my competitors want to get rich. I want to leave an impact, build a legacy and build generational wealth. It’s a difference in the level of vision, "he continues.
Who is the greatest influence in your business and your life?
One of Sean’s influences is John Maxwell. “He’s not exactly a social media influencer, although his team has fully embraced social. I just love John, his legacy and leadership, and his books. Also, man, he’s seventy-five, and still writes books, still helps people, and still adds value. It’s one of my hopes," he says.
Another one is Patrick Bet-David from Valuetainment. The channel has almost four million subscribers and is one of the best entrepreneur channels.
But most of the people he admires and really wants to learn from are people like John Bevere, a faith-based author, and his wife, Lisa Bevere. They launched an app called Messenger X, which shares life and spiritual development resources in 100+ languages.
Another couple is Chalene and Bret Johnson, who are also very successful people in business.
The reason he looks up to these couples is that they have achieved success, but they still maintain great relationships with their families. The Beveres’ kids are in business and ministry with them. Chalene, a fitness celebrity, made sure she and her husband never missed a single football match and track meet for their kids.
“I want to learn from people who are like that, who are crushing it in that vision of success without losing their soul,” Sean says. “I am type-A: driven, ambitious, I know I can make the wrong decisions to overprioritize my business and underprioritize my family. So I want to select those I learn from the most—mentors and leaders—that have built legacies [without neglecting their families].”
“I don’t want to climb to the top of the mountain only to realize I climbed the wrong mountain. I don’t want to get to the top of the mountain where I’m getting applause from the crowds, but I’ve lost the love and respect of my children,” he shares.
Some of the YouTube tools and services you recommend
The podcast distributor Sean uses is BuzzSprout. But there are also other distributors like Podbean and Libsyn. BuzzSprout has great features and is super user-friendly. Some distributors have dynamic advertisement features, which are 10-second call-to-action that advertise old podcast episodes.
He also avails services from Repurpose House. They do video repurposing and send you back verticals and reels ready for blasting on other social media sites within 24 hours.
Follow Sean Cannell on social media
Facebook: Sean Cannell
You could also visit his website: seancannell.com
Buy his book, YouTube Secrets, on Amazon!
DISCLAIMER: The people interviewed are well-trained experts and highly skilled in their areas of practice. They take many safety precautions prior to attempting the activities described. The activities or research discussed in these podcasts should not be attempted without qualified supervision and training with professionals.