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SPI 533: How Brenda Built a Niche Online Education Business the Smart Way

Brenda Petrella is an ex-scientist who helps people get outside in nature through her online business, Outdoor Photography School. She’s also an incredible member of the SPI Pro community. She’s joining the show today to share what she’s learned about niching down and building her online business in a way that works for her.

You’ll learn how Brenda found her niche, and her journey in building a business around it, starting with a YouTube channel and now a podcast. Her next step is creating online courses, and she’s already started with a few small “virtual workshops” to help validate her first course idea.

We chat about the differences between online video and podcasting and how the cohort-based SPI course Brenda took earlier this year (the Power-Up Podcasting Bootcamp) gave her the boost she needed to get the ball rolling on her show.

We also talk about how Brenda plans to deal with her first YouTube trolls (if and when they show up!), and how she manages the burnout of the “content treadmill.” As Brenda says, she works better when focusing on just one channel at a time. So if that describes you too, then you’re going to really appreciate this conversation.

I also share something Team SPI is doing in January 2022, something we’ve never done before that could be a game-changer for a lot of people. So make sure you stick around and listen in.

Today’s Guest

Brenda Petrella

Brenda Petrella is a Vermont-based landscape and nature photographer, the founder of Outdoor Photography School, and the host of the Outdoor Photography Podcast. Her successful tutorial YouTube channel recently surpassed 30,000 subscribers, and her videos have been recommended by Imaging-Resource, Shutterbug, Photography Talk, Capture Landscapes, Picture Correct, and others.

Prior to photography, Brenda was the principal investigator of a cancer research laboratory and later oversaw biomedical safety and compliance at a biomedical research institution. In late 2016, Brenda left her scientific career to honor her love of the outdoors and pursue a long-standing interest in landscape photography.

Brenda has been invited to showcase her work in several solo exhibits around Vermont and New Hampshire, and her iconic Vermont landscape photographs were recently chosen for a permanent exhibition in the Vermont State Attorney General’s Office.

Her images have been featured on the cover of Northern Woodlands Magazine and by the National Wildlife Federation, the Slow Photography Movement, Save the River, and the Monovision Photography Awards. Brenda has also been an invited speaker at several camera clubs nationally and internationally.

When not creating images, podcasting, or teaching, Brenda enjoys hiking, biking, snowshoeing, doing projects around her house, and spending time with her young daughter, partner, dog, and two pet cows.

Outdoor Photography School



You’ll Learn


Pat Flynn: What if I told you that there might be one golden nugget in this episode that you could take away, that you could bring into the new year, that would change the trajectory of everything you’ve been doing? Well, this may very well be the case, because we’re going to talk about a entire sequence of events that happened with Brenda Petrella, who is an incredible member of the SPI community, she’s also inside of SPI Pro as well. And she tells us a story about how she started after leaving the field of science, her photography business online.

Pat Flynn: And the platforms she chose, how she progressed from that into then creating courses and all this other stuff. It’s just so fun, plus we talk about podcasting a little bit in the middle of this, and a lot of the psychology in and around that as well, which is really, really important. I think a lot of us who might be listening to this right now are also thinking about starting a podcast as well. We have some fun things. And in fact, in this episode, I share something that team SPI has never done before, that we are putting on in January that could be a game changer for a lot of people. So make sure you stick around and listen in. I’ll tell you a little bit more about Brenda in just a moment, but here’s the intro. Let’s go.

Announcer: Welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, where it’s all about working hard now So you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host, he once walked through SeaWorld with his pants on backwards the entire day, Pat Flynn.

Pat Flynn: What’s up, everybody? Pat Flynn here, and welcome to Session 533 of the Smart Passive Income Podcast. My name is Pat Flynn, here to help you make more money, save more time, and most importantly help more people too. And this is something that’s really awesome with Brenda, is she’s doing a lot of what she’s done. She’s chosen her specific niche in a niche to help more people in a way that she knows how to do it. And there’s some really interesting takeaways here that I know you will get out of this episode. And plus Brenda is just an amazing human being to begin with, and I’m sure you’re going to love this episode. So Brenda Petrella from Outdoor Photography School, and she’ll tell you how the outdoors connect with photography, not just in taking photos of the outdoors, but experiencing the outdoors as well. And we’re going to get into a lot of stuff. So let’s not wait any further, here she is, Brenda Petrella.

Pat Flynn: Brenda, welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Brenda Petrella: Thanks so much for inviting me to come on, Pat. It’s really an honor to be here and I’m so glad to be chatting with you.

Pat Flynn: And this is actually our second time doing this because the first time didn’t go well.

Brenda Petrella: That’s right.

Pat Flynn: This is real life, everybody. And this is the second time Brenda and I are connecting because the first time it was my fault, my microphone, I don’t know what happened to it, but I sounded really bad. And apparently you were sick the last time. So we’re back at round two and we’re going to make it even better.

Brenda Petrella: Excellent.

Pat Flynn: So Brenda, tell us a little bit about what you do. I know it’s in the realm of photography. What do you do in the world of photography?

Brenda Petrella: Let’s see, back in late 2019, I started a company called Outdoor Photography School to be an online resource for aspiring landscaping nature photographers, and the new twist on it that I was trying to include was education in the outdoors as well as education in photography. So there are a lot of different learn photography websites out there, but not many of them include the skills that you need to be safe and comfortable in the outdoors as well as respectful of nature when you’re out doing photography. So my goal was to combine those two elements in Outdoor Photography School. And so I teach those skills through articles, videos, and now podcast coming up. In the new year I’ll be hopefully offering some courses as well.

Pat Flynn: Yeah, that’s really cool. I’d love to learn more about the decision to niche down in that way. I think a lot of people, when we approach online business, it’s like, “Okay, photography I’m good at photography, I’m just going to go in and kind of see what happens.” How did you choose that as your niche? And was there any worry about narrowing down too much?

Brenda Petrella: I sort of stumbled upon it quite honestly, not with a real plan in mind. So my background is actually in science, I’m a molecular biologist by training. I did cancer research for a number of years. So this is a second career for me, if you will. And I left that, I resigned from that position in 2017 with the idea that I wanted to pursue my passion for photography more fully, but I had no idea what that would look like. And in the process of trying to build up a photography business, selling my own prints and that sort of thing, it was actually my neighbor, a teenager at the time, he said, “Oh, why don’t you start a YouTube channel?” And I thought, “Well, you’re crazy. Why would I do that?” Yeah, I like to be behind the camera, not in front of the camera, but he was very encouraging and I thought why not?

Brenda Petrella: I’ll see if I can figure out how to do video. I enjoy teaching science, so maybe I would enjoy teaching photography. And I thought YouTube is so massive that no one’s going to watch my videos anyway. I don’t have to put anything out that’s not edited. If I don’t think I’ve done a good job, I can always redo it. And so that gave me some confidence in putting myself out there. Much to my surprise, the videos did start to take off and make an impact. And it was through those tutorial videos where I would get comments from people who were watching the videos about being comfortable in the outdoors. So I spend a lot of time hiking alone and I’m perfectly comfortable doing that. And I would create these tutorial videos where I would bring the audience out into the woods with me and we’d go on a hike and I’d show them the compositions that I was thinking about or teach a specific photography skill and how it applied to that composition.

Brenda Petrella: And people had questions around the photography part, but they also had questions about this comfort in the outdoors. And I realized I live in Vermont, which is a very rural state. And I realized that I have this wilderness out my back door, which most people in the world do not. And I have a comfort with nature that maybe some people who, even if they love spending time in nature, maybe are a little wary about it, because they just haven’t spent a lot of time around it. That’s basically what got me thinking about, okay, well, if I do want to use education as the main platform for my photography business, how can I do that in a way that’s different than what other people are doing? And that’s where I realized that, oh people aren’t tying these two skillsets together really.

Pat Flynn: That’s so cool. So Outdoor Photography School. Is that the name of the channel on YouTube?

Brenda Petrella: Yes.

Pat Flynn: And you also have a blog and courses coming up, which we’ll talk about and talk about the ideas and what you’re going to be offering and prices and all that kind of stuff. But I want to go back to when this teenager of yours, your neighbor, which is so cool to see that you’re getting encouraged by your neighbor in that way, when you actually got a camera and then you flipped the lens around to you, what was that like? Were you nervous? What was going through your head?

Brenda Petrella: Oh yeah, it was so awkward. It was like feeling like I was in middle school all over again. But then I found the value of editing and realized that, okay, even if it takes me 20 tries, I can get this to a place where I’m more comfortable with what I’m sharing. And if people look at those early videos, they are quite rough. But it was definitely scary to put yourself out there like that. And I have to say, I’ve been very fortunate in that so far, I’ve been able to largely avoid trolls and I’m really grateful for that because I know that can be a real problem for some people and can really play into their confidence and mindset around creating and providing value. And thankfully, that hasn’t really been the case. I, in my situation.

Pat Flynn: First of all, congrats on that because that’s a huge thing on YouTube. Especially YouTube is a cesspool of a lot of people who are just hiding behind their keyboards, trying to knock other people down. So that’s really great that you’ve avoided that, but at the same time, from my experience in talking to others, it’s like sometimes you almost feel like you haven’t made it until you’ve gotten those trolls, but they might show up in the future, if not, no worries. But let’s say you get a nasty comment tomorrow, what’s your head space around that right now?

Brenda Petrella: I think I feel a lot better about it now than I would have when I first started the channel, which was in 2018. And I think I’d put less value on that in terms of a reflection on me. I have had so many people appreciate the teaching that I’ve done online and now through the podcast that I’m okay. If people don’t like it and they have something mean to say, it’s not going to like eat away at my ability to do it again because I know there’s a large enough people out there that are benefiting in a very positive way from what I’m creating.

Pat Flynn: That’s the exact mindset you need to have. I remember when I had a troll back in 2000 and I can’t remember 11 or 12, that was really nasty. I’m not even going to get into this story. Many people know it, but I stopped creating content for like a whole month because of one person and what they did. And it was Derek Halpern from Social Triggers who said, “Hey, every second you waste on this hater is a second you’re taking away from all the people who appreciate you and need you.” It’s so true and a lot of us don’t often reflect on the impact that we actually do have on people. So what has happened since starting this YouTube channel and then the podcast? What reactions are you getting and how are you knowing that this is working?

Brenda Petrella: Mostly from the comments from people who are either subscribed to the YouTube channel or now listening to the podcast or on my email list. I’ve been growing an email list during this time as well. So many positive comments and so I’m very grateful for that. To hear from actual people and stories about how they’ve had this breakthrough moment with their photography or they’re now selling their photography, which they hadn’t before, or they’ve printed it and it’s hanging in their home and they’re so happy and proud of what they’ve created.

Brenda Petrella: Or other stories of people saying, “I’ve been wanting to go on this canoe trip for years and listening to your podcast. I finally got out, I finally did it and it was like the best four days of my life.” Or whatever just to get out in nature and disconnect for a little while and whether they create images or not, it’s nice to just have that time out in nature. That’s been really, it’s great, very, very rewarding and keeps me spurring on even when I’m feeling burnt out at times.

Pat Flynn: So you do feel burnt out every once in a while.

Brenda Petrella: I do.

Pat Flynn: What is burning you out?

Brenda Petrella: Mostly the focus that I’ve had for the last two, three years has been on audience building through providing free content and also through trying to establish myself as a reference, a resource, an expert in the field. I have often felt like I was on a content treadmill of sorts and trying to figure out the video and then trying to figure out the blog and building a website. There was a lot of technical stuff that I just had zero experience in coming from my science background that I just had to learn how to do.

Brenda Petrella: These sort of skill sets that you have of like SEO, building a website, design, copywriting, building an email list, how to nurture that email list, like all these little things that are super important, that it’s hard to do that and then write a really meaningful blog post with images and captions and everything’s optimized and all of that just takes so much time. So I have found that I do best if I’m focusing on one content form at a time. So for a while it was YouTube, for a while it was articles in other tutorial videos that I have off of the website. This year, it’s been mostly the podcast, the podcast is new this year. Just in terms of time in the week, it’s just very difficult for me to do multiple things at the same time.

Pat Flynn: Hear, hear! Welcome to the club. That’s the struggle in organizing that and staying focused, especially when you have multiple platforms like I do, it can be very difficult. But there’s also some cool things about that, when you get tired or bored of one, you can move back to the other and you can kind of go back and forth. I think it was really important though, in your story that you kind of chose one to begin with, right? You, your one platform that was like your main gig and you got the systems down and you got that in place and it was kind of rolling for you before you moved on to the podcast. I’d love to ask you what made you decide to go audio only and start a podcast after the YouTube channel.

Brenda Petrella: In the time that I started the YouTube channel, I actually have taken two big breaks from it, I’m in one right now. And prior to that, I had taken about a year off because we had a baby and I tore my ACL and needed knee surgery. And it was just a lot going on in my personal life. And I wasn’t able to physically go out and go hiking and that sort of thing. And then it was the pandemic. And I did do a video series on YouTube during the pandemic where it was just in my studio, basically my office, where I was teaching an app essentially, where I didn’t have to travel. That was a good thing to do during the pandemic. And I found that I was creating videos to start chasing the algorithm more than being inspired to produce a thing of real value.

Brenda Petrella: And I also found that the only time I had to do my own photography was very limited. And so I didn’t want to stagnate in my own skillset if I’m going to be teaching this. So I wanted to make sure that in my life, I was carving out my own time to be away from the computer out in nature and doing what I’m teaching. So now having a, she’s almost three, my daughter’s almost three now, it’s just been easier for me to produce and still connect with an audience and feel like I’m providing a lot of value through the podcast. And it’s been super rewarding for me, so if I’m just going to speak personally about it, I feel like I’m actually, even though my audience is smaller so far with the podcast, people are listening to the majority of the podcast, whereas on YouTube, people just are looking for an answer.

Brenda Petrella: They get the answer, they might get it in the first three minutes, but you’ve spent 20 hours making a 15 minute video. You’re never going to recoup that time unless you’re getting hundreds of thousands of views on that video. You’re probably not monetizing it through ads very effectively. So for me, the podcast is a way of connecting more deeply with the people in my audience. And it’s a little bit easier to produce on a regular basis. And so I’ve been able to be more consistent with it, but in addition to that, the podcast is a mixed style podcast. it’s called the Outdoor Photography Podcast. Every other week I have an interview with another photographer or someone from the outdoor industry and every other week from that is what I call a Tidbit Tuesday where I answer listener questions.

Brenda Petrella: So there’s that extra intimate interaction with the listeners. They record their questions on SpeakPipe and so I can add their voice to the podcast in that way and that’s been nice. And I also really enjoy bringing in other voices. That I’m not the only person here, I’m learning from other people too. And so bringing in their perspectives, giving them that platform, I think has been really valuable to the audience as well as to me, just to build a network and connect with other people and start other collaborations. And so the podcast has felt like I had thought at the beginning of 2021, that this would be sort of my fun little side project and we’ll see what happens and it has just blossomed into my main focus for a whole slew of reasons. One, it’s growing at a very rapid pace, much faster than I thought it would and two, people are getting a lot out of it. And I’m personally getting a lot out of it in terms of connecting with others and growing my network. It’s been fantastic. So I’m very excited to see where it goes next year.

Pat Flynn: That’s so awesome to hear. The YouTube struggle is real in terms of retention time. When I get, and I’m sure it’s the same for you, when you get people watching videos for five minutes or more, it’s like a win. It’s like, “Yes, the retention’s really good.” Even though it’s 33% of the video and then on podcasting, it’s anywhere from 60 to 90% retention and people are with you for much longer. And like you said, the relationships that you could build, not just with your audience through that intimacy, but with the people who you bring on the show.

Pat Flynn: So you are at the same time building your authority in the space that you’re in. And a podcast is much easier for people to be a guest on versus a video. Which, have you ever done any collaborations on your YouTube channel?

Brenda Petrella: Not yet.

Pat Flynn: Not yet. See how it’s so much easier with a podcast. And I love that because obviously I’m all in on podcasting. I teach podcasting. What were the big struggles for you when you were starting your show? You had this idea, I think a lot of people have an idea to start a podcast, but immediately we come to some brick walls. What were some of the brick walls that you had?

Brenda Petrella: Well, to be honest, I first wanted to start the podcast back when I launched the website. I think I was in that stage of where I think a lot of brand new entrepreneurs find themselves, which is like, “I want to do everything. I’m going to have a YouTube channel. I’m going to do Instagram stories. I’m going to do a podcast and a blog.” And I quickly realized that that was not practical, but I did actually sign up for Power-Up Podcasting, your course, back then and just didn’t get very far primarily because I found myself in a lot of indecision about, who is my target audience? Like all the things that you talk about in the course. I felt like I needed to talk with somebody to help me process through those deciding points. My way of procrastinating is through perfectionism. I can sit in indecision for a really long time because I’m just not sure it’s right.

Brenda Petrella: Instead of done is better than perfect or whatever the phrase is. And then when you came out with the bootcamp early this year, the Power-Up Podcasting Bootcamp, I thought, you know what, now I finally feel ready to start the podcast. I feel like I’m better positioned to do that. And this bootcamp idea, I thought, you know what, this is what I need. I need, as I’m going through the lessons, to be able to talk with people in real time essentially, and get some feedback. And that is what really helped move the ball forward for me, was just to get a little bit of that encouragement of like, “Nope, you should change the colors on your artwork.” Or, “No, this artwork looks great.” Or, “Your introduction music is a little too loud, tone it back a little bit here.”

Brenda Petrella: Those are tiny little decisions that maybe in the end don’t make a huge difference except they do if they get in the way of you making progress. And so it was just full steam forward with me with the bootcamp. So, thank you for coming up with that design because I am still in touch with a small group from our cohort. We meet weekly and we’re still encouraging each other along the way. We’re at various stages of our podcasts, everyone in the group so far has gone live and sharing our ups and downs and everything has been really valuable as well.

Pat Flynn: That just makes me so happy, Brenda. I remember when we were doing that bootcamp together, you were so proactive, not just with getting stuff done on your own for your stuff, but also helping and encouraging others. And it’s so cool to see that you’re still connected with a few of the students there. And you’re right, it’s those little decisions that often stop us, which is why we designed the bootcamp in the way it was. And you just came out of the gate, just running. And then it’s just been so cool to see what the podcast has now done for you. So it’s our pleasure and it’s not just me, right? It’s, it’s the entire SPI team who was there, Jay and Jillian and a number of other people inside of SPI Pro. They’re a part of the bootcamp situation as well, and we’re going to be doing more of them, which is really interesting, but this actually leads perfectly into this.

Pat Flynn: You don’t even know this right now. In January, so next month at the time that people are listening to this, if they listen when it comes out, January of 2022, we’re going to be doing something called Open Podcast. And this is very similar to, you might have seen Open Circle. Open Circle was when we, myself, Jay, Matt, and a few other people on the team came together just to talk about community and how we built SPI Pro. And a lot of people were interested in how we built that and what to do and how to do that. And we’re going to continue to do those sort of monthly. However, in January, we’re doing open podcasts where we’re going to come on for an hour and a half and just answer anybody’s questions about starting a podcast, it’s totally free.

Pat Flynn: We’ll give some tips on how to get started and really help people create their MVP, their Minimum Viable Podcast. And that’s going to lead to a really cool event that we’re going to be putting on. The name currently is still tentative, but it’s going to be to the likes of Pitch Your Pod or Podcastathon or something that encourages everybody to create their first episode, not worry about the technology, just send it to us. We will put it in a new podcast feed, so you can hear it and get some feedback and we’re going to pick a winner and help them produce their podcast and just all this fun event stuff in February to really get at it going.

Pat Flynn: So I think, like you said, we’re going to help people with those small decisions so they can just finally get it going and get their first episode up. So everybody listening, stick around to the end we’ll give you a link to where to go to sign up for that. Again, it’s free. Open podcast where we can help you out because as you’re hearing here, Brenda is just doing some amazing things with her show, which is now going to lead into some courses, right?

Brenda Petrella: That’s the hope.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. Tell us about where this idea came from and what you hope for it to do.

Brenda Petrella: I really enjoy teaching both one-on-one and in person or online and with how everything has gone. And now that I’m more comfortable doing video this past year with the pandemic, I decided to start offering what I called virtual workshops, basically like an online course. It was about two, two and a half hours long, but live with small groups. And so it was interactive. It wasn’t just like a webinar with me talking at people. I tried to create exercises that we’d do together throughout. And I did that primarily as a way of validating a course idea. So I’ve always had the idea that I wanted to include some sort of online courses in Outdoor Photography School. Being that that’s the name, education is at the top of the list and so different formats for that has been a primary goal.

Brenda Petrella: Back, I guess, about a year ago, yeah about a year ago, I did a poll to my email list saying I’m thinking of creating my first course, what are you interested in? And I’m so glad I did that because, and I know you’ve recommended this and many others have as well, is ask your audience what they want or what they need. It was totally not what I thought it was going to be. I thought they were going to be mostly beginner level photographers and like the basics about landscape and nature photography and gear and that sort of thing was going to be their main focus, but instead it was composition, so much more advanced level. I had never taught composition in a course way before and so I thought, well, before I spend hours recording this course, maybe I should first validate whether people even like the way I teach composition. So that’s why I decided to offer it as a live workshop.

Brenda Petrella: I just do it over zoom, I record it. I give them a PDF workbook that I give everybody. And then I send them a link to the recording afterward and it’s been very well received. And then afterwards, I give everybody a survey and they give me feedback on the content and also some testimonials which I can use going forward. So my plan now is to either do more of those styles of initial beta testing a concept to get that feedback, to get the testimonials, before then turning that into a more intimate or a more detailed course that would be hosted on a platform like Teachable perhaps.

Pat Flynn: And something that wouldn’t require as much time, at least from you to teach that group of people. And what’s cool about that is now you have actually two versions. It’s very similar to a lot of our stuff, right? We have the prerecorded Power-Up Podcasting and that serves so many people and many people do great with that, but kind of like your story, some people get in there and they’re like, “Oh, you know what, I just need a little bit more encouragement or some people watching over my shoulder.” And then we have the bootcamp version and what’s really cool is we can provide both and offer different ways and styles of learning there.

Pat Flynn: And this is, like the approach you’re taking is the exact approach we took with our most recent course, Heroic Online Courses. We did a bootcamp slash cohort style first and then launched the prerecorded version in October 2021 to massive success. So I’m really excited for you. When you did these cohort based workshop two hour situations, you had said you had never really taught composition before. What was your process for determining like what the curriculum was going to be?

Brenda Petrella: Lots of research. Yeah. So I bought a lot of different photography composition books and studied it and also really tried to challenge myself on what is my approach to composition? Everybody kind of has their own take on it and for many it’s an intuitive process. So how do you translate that into something you can teach? And one of my pet peeves when I was learning composition for the first time, I think it’s a lifelong study, there’s a lot of stuff out on the internet if you were to Google photography composition. It’s like, “oh, here’s the 10 rules of composition” or “25 rules, or must know, six steps to composition.” First of all, no one can agree on the number of rules there are and second of all, every article says once you learn the rules, then you have to break the rules and they don’t even explain what that means.

Brenda Petrella: And so I always found that to be really unhelpful advice and confusing. And so I wanted to address that basically is like, there’s got to be a better way that we can study composition and not have structure or may maybe rule is too strong of a word, but guidelines are there for a reason. There are neurological reasons why they are visually pleasing when things are arranged in a certain way. And so understanding that part, I tried to bring in how do our brains work to perceive visual information? What can we learn about that in terms of how do we relate that then to expressing ourselves with an image or expressing something in the landscape and making it more meaningful and self-expressive for that photographer rather than here is another epic, iconic shot that you would normally find 65,000 times on Instagram. So my goal has been to get people to find their own voice in that.

Pat Flynn: So wait, are you telling me you’re bringing science back into the situation now?

Brenda Petrella: Of course.

Pat Flynn: How cool is that? That’s so awesome. Who knew that that was going to happen? That’s incredible. With the composition stuff, I can imagine that being very difficult to teach. How do you teach a person to have their own style of something? That is seemingly very challenging. You did this, and what was it like after finishing your first workshop?

Brenda Petrella: It was very eye opening. It helped me revise the presentation some to see what, I didn’t really divide them up in modules, but let’s call it that, what things were more important or confusing or things I could maybe take out or other things I could emphasize more in, provide more examples. So for example, after teaching a few concepts about what makes a strong composition, then I shared some of my own images where I’m like, “Why doesn’t this work? We just talked about all this other stuff about what works, here are some examples of what I would consider a composition that doesn’t work. This is what I was trying to do, why didn’t it work?” And then I have them analyze it. And the feedback I got from students was that that was really helpful. That they got on the hot seat essentially, and had to think about, analyze what didn’t quite work.

Brenda Petrella: And I think they found some parallels in their own work in doing that. And so my hope was to give them skills so that they could go back and look at their own portfolios or other people’s portfolios and have a more analytical approach and kind of reverse engineer why something works versus doesn’t work and how they can then apply that in their own photography. And one thing I’ll say is that another thing that I’ve learned and what I’m hoping to incorporate in the new year is a continued conversation after the course. So I think that will address what you’re talking about, which is how do you keep people going once they’ve learned these skills, how do they then apply it?

Brenda Petrella: And the feedback I got in the most recent round of offering this course was exactly that, like we loved the live component and we want to keep talking, come back and touch base in the next couple of weeks and see how we’re doing. One, that tells me that’s great, people are fired up, they want to apply what they’ve learned. And two, that also suggests to me that something like a community or a membership or like a student center or something along those lines would be helpful instead of just like, “here’s the information. See ya.”

Pat Flynn: Yeah. You know this as a member of SPI Pro and how valuable it is to continue those conversations in your little cohort, but also with a larger group of people. I think that’d be really amazing and obviously having SPI Pro as an example, you’re obviously welcome to get inspiration and learn and copy it or whatever you want to do. I think that’d be great, but I know that more immediately, you’re going to be developing the prerecorded version of this. And I know that you signed up for the next round of Heroic Online Courses and specifically the bootcamp which is really cool. And the quick story about that for everybody is we’re running another round of our Heroic Online Courses Bootcamp. We ran it for the first time to validate it, Summer of 2021.

Pat Flynn: And it was absolutely amazing. So we actually ended up selling it again in October alongside the prerecorded course, we only had about eight people sign up. And the feedback that we got was, “Well, it’s going to be very difficult to do over the holidays.” And people just wanted to wait till the start of the new year, so we actually pushed it back. And Brenda, thank you for being open to that, basically everybody was, we’re going to be running it in January. And so if you’re listening to this and you’re like, “Hey, I’d like to start an online course. And I want to do this with Brenda and a few other people together with the help from team SPI…” I will be there leading the courses and the cohort, it goes down in January. So the link for that, if you want to check it out will be let’s do bootcamps or “bootcamp” singular,

Pat Flynn: And if there is any more room, you’ll see it available there. So that’d be really fun. And you went through the Power-Up Podcasting Bootcamp, what was the best part of going through it with a group? Because you’re very capable of going through a course on your own. And yes, you got some help from team SPI looking over your shoulder, like you said, but I know that there’s a lot more benefits to doing things with other people. What was the best part about it for you?

Brenda Petrella: I think feeling not alone, that may sound corny to some people, but I’m a solopreneur. So it’s not like I’ve got a team of people to talk things over with or anything like that. Or other creators who are putting themselves out there in a new way, hearing their story or their struggles, it was just really comforting to be like, “Oh, okay. If I’m feeling insecure about this thing, I’m not the only one. And there are people here to help us, and so if we just like up and be a little vulnerable.” And are like, “Hey I’m struggling with this.” Or, “I’m scared to put myself out there in this way.” Or, “I haven’t gotten any guests for my interviews.” Or, “How do I go about this?” Just having one, the comradery with the students, so we’re all going through the same thing, experiencing it in different ways, we have different successes.

Brenda Petrella: We have different misses or struggles that we can help each other with. I found it to be very rewarding to be like, “Oh, hey, I struggled with that too, but I figured it out, here’s a solution.” So feeling helpful was really nice like, hey, I’ve learned something and I can help somebody now. That was really great. And of course, interacting with team SPI and getting their professional feedback on things.

Brenda Petrella: Jay was just phenomenal with our weekly office hours and answering questions. Obviously he’s been doing podcasting for a really long time. And so these are the people on SPI Pro who are helping us, are people who’ve done the work. They’ve done this before. All of that was super valuable. And the accountability too was definitely a good little fire under your butt to be like, well, I committed to getting this done this week and it feels tight in my schedule to do it, but I’m going to do it anyway and I think left to my own devices, I would’ve been like, “Well nobody knows that I’m starting a podcast. I can put this off till next month.”

Pat Flynn: Gosh, how many times I’ve said that to myself, “nobody knows I’m doing this right now.” I could just stop and it’s okay. Brenda, thank you so much for that. I have one final question for you as we finish up here, and thank you for those glowing reviews for Pro and for the cohorts and such. What are you most proud of about yourself and what you’ve accomplished over the last few years since you left science in 2017 and built your own business?

Brenda Petrella: That’s a big question. I would say, being able to help people connect with nature in a meaningful way. Yes. I’m teaching photography. That’s sort of the mechanism. My ultimate goal is really to help people find respite and peace and themselves through connecting with nature. And it’s been really, really rewarding that this passion of mine has blossomed into this thing that is helping other people do that. And it’s so much less about the subscribers and the likes. That’s not what matters, what matters is that I get an email from someone who’s like, “Oh, thank you. I finally did this thing that I’ve been wanting to do. I understand this thing. I’m happier now because you helped me get outside.” Things like that. I was doing cancer research before in a very tiny, I was working on one molecule in one type of cancer.

Brenda Petrella: And the impact of that work may not have, have been felt for another 20 years, if at all. Whereas now I’m reaching tens of thousands of people and helping them in a way that they have control of right now, which is, I can prioritize taking care of myself, giving myself a little break and go step outside and connect with nature. Even if it’s for 20 minutes and that can improve their day. And so I feel like I’m having a much more positive impact in the world. And I’m so grateful that that’s through something that I absolutely love doing, which is photography.

Pat Flynn: You should be super proud of that. When people are outside, it helps with our mental health, it helps with our mood, helps the people around us. There’s such a huge impact that probably we could never measure as a result of the work that you’ve done. I’m super proud of you, Brenda and I’m looking forward to working with you in January for your course, and having more earnings come in as a byproduct of more service to others in the mechanism that you chose, which I, again, I think is really, really smart. So congrats to you. Thank you again for being a guest on the show here. And where can people go to find all the good stuff?

Brenda Petrella: Well, thank you, Pat. It’s a real honor to be here and chatting with you and being part of SPI has been just a wonderful contribution to my whole ecosystem here. So thank you for all the stuff that you and everyone at SPI has been doing. So people can find me at; that’s where you would link to the articles, videos, the podcast. And the podcast is on all the platforms. It’s the Outdoor Photography Podcast. And then if you want to see any of my own images, you can just go to, which is my online portfolio.

Pat Flynn: Perfect. We’ll have all the links on the show notes page. So what do you think, Brenda? Was the second time better than the first?

Brenda Petrella: Yes.

Pat Flynn: So much better. Oh my gosh. I’m so thankful my mic wasn’t working, because this was absolutely incredible. Thank you, Brenda.

Brenda Petrella: Well, thank you.

Pat Flynn: All right. I hope you enjoyed that episode with Brenda. Isn’t she awesome? Brenda, thank you so much for being a part of the community, for being a listener and being a member of SPI Pro and joining us in our cohorts. You were in the Power-Up Podcasting one, and we’re going to be together involved in the Heroic Online Courses cohort that’s coming up in January here. If you’re interested in working with Brenda and my myself and team SPI and a few others to help you build your online course, head on over to to check out and get redirected to the page, to check out the more information about that and when it’s all going down and all that stuff. And also, like I said, we are going to be running open podcasts to kick off anybody who’s interested in starting a podcast. To reveal some of the do’s some of the don’ts to get people into their Minimum Viable Podcast to get started with. We’re going to be running that in January as well.

Pat Flynn: So is where you want to go for that one. Wow. This has been an incredible episode, Brenda, thank you again. For all the show notes, links to everything I just mentioned and more and all of Brenda’s stuff. Head on over to One more time And the other thing we mentioned, we mentioned Pro in here as well. I know a lot of people have been asking and curious about Pro. if you’d like to apply to that. Okay.

Pat Flynn: That’s a lot of links, more than I like to usually offer, because I know you’re listening on the audio. So make sure again, to go to all those handy links, to get all those links easily right on the page there. And thank you, I appreciate you and I look forward to serving you here at the end of the year and into 2022 with some energy, with some excitement, with hopefully some accountability, and we’re here for you and thank you for being here for me. Cheers, peace out, and as always team Flynn for the win.

Pat Flynn: Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast at I’m your host, Pat Flynn. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess. Our series producer is David Grabowski, and our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media. We’ll catch you in the next session.

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