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SPI 799: Building a Business WITH a 9 to 5 Job with Eric Chou

Is it possible to build a business while working a traditional job? Is it possible to grow a brand that complements your full-time work? How do you know when it’s time to go all-in on your side gig, and what should you consider before taking the leap?

These are the questions we explore in today’s episode. My guest, Eric Chou of Network Automation Nerds, is a leader in his highly technical niche. He is an author and former Amazon and Microsoft employee leveraging his expertise to build a brand and community alongside his current high-paying job.

Eric is applying strategies we often discuss on this show and within SPI Pro to engage his followers and readers in a big way. Tune in for this success story because some of his online courses have now attracted over ten thousand students!

In this episode, we discuss everything from how to begin sharing your niche knowledge and skills to building an effective online presence. We also look at the pros and cons of publishing on and leveraging platforms like LinkedIn Learning.

Listen in on my chat with Eric to learn more!

Today’s Guest

Eric Chou

Eric Chou is a distinguished technologist boasting more than two decades of expertise in the tech industry, including roles at Fortune 500 companies such as Amazon and Microsoft. As a writer and industry leader, Eric has authored bestsellers such as Mastering Python Networking and top-rated courses on LinkedIn Learning.

Beyond his literary works, Eric is the founder of Network Automation Nerds, a community he founded to advance the field of network automation.

Eric holds three U.S. patents in the areas of IP telephony and network engineering. He shares his passion through various channels including books, online classes, and his bi-weekly Network Automation Nerds podcast.

You’ll Learn


SPI 799: Building a Business WITH a 9 to 5 Job with Eric Chou

Eric Chou: Hopefully one day I could increase the, the share of what I work on my own projects versus the full time job. But I don’t really know when to take that step forward. To me, I feel like it’s almost like I’ve reached a point where I have to make a decision. You can’t continue, it’s not sustainable to always having to, you know, work full time job and having three or four different projects at the same time. So I think I’m at that point where I want to make a decision maybe sooner rather than later about whether I want to do this full time or if I could do this full time.

Pat Flynn: What might it look like to have both your nine to five and a side gig, right? And what would it look like if those two things were actually related. Well, we’re going to talk with our SPI Pro community member, Eric Chou, today. Eric is a networking technical nerd. He has a business and a podcast called Network Automation Nerds.

You can also find him on LinkedIn. He has a number of LinkedIn courses with over 10,000 students on some of those courses and we talk about that business model a little bit and what that might look like. So especially if you are in a more technical field, we talk about what that might look like as a business.

And it’s interesting because even though he’s in a very technical field, even though there’s information out there that he is publishing that gives people answers and they can kind of move on he’s building a community. And we talk about how to do that. And again, all of that on top of the nine to five job that he has.

And we also go through a little bit of scenario building, right? What might it look like to remove ourselves from one of those and go fully all in on the other? And is that the right thing to do? We talk about all those things and things that are probably on your mind as well today in this session of the SPI podcast, session 799, I’m excited to dive in with you today with Eric Choo from Network Automation Nerds.

Here he is.

Announcer: You’re listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, a proud member of the Entrepreneur Podcast Network, a show that’s all about working hard now, so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host, he eats so much broccoli, it’s actually a bit worrisome. Pat Flynn.

Pat Flynn: Eric, welcome to SPI.

Thank you so much for taking the time today.

Eric Chou: It’s totally an honor to be here, Pat. I’ve been following for a long time and you know, I try to do the part to support the community, but I would never in a hundred years imagine I would be one of your guests. So this is a total honor for me.

Pat Flynn: Well, how long have you been listening for?

I’m curious.

Eric Chou: Well, you know, listening on and off, but I’ve, you know, have your book, Would It Fly? I still have that little airplane and with the instruction you wrote about, will this pan out and your goals? And I take a look at that, you know, every so often to make sure I’m on track. Obviously it’s a system that you’re providing.

So I tweak the tactical stuff here and there, but I’ve been following for a long time.

Pat Flynn: On that paper, so for those of you who don’t know who are listening, there’s an exercise in the book to write down your goals and your vision for the future. It’s done in a specific way, but how have your goals changed over time?

I’m curious because you’ve, you’ve obviously done very well with a lot of the business related goals and things that you’ve had, or what have you added to that since then? What’s looking down the road for you from today?

Eric Chou: Well, I think previously, you know, because at the time I was thinking about achieving some of the life goals, like writing a book or, you know, generate a certain amount of passive income.

So I feel more financially free. So I think the, the goals have kind of just enhance on top of each other. So besides writing a book, once you achieve that, you know, want to create a community. Once I have a community, you know, I want to kind of grow and help people more and kind of just have the community drive, which direction I would go.

And obviously, you know, with the financial goals, you know, you kind of just kind of carry each other and building on top of those. So I wouldn’t say the goals have changed dramatically, but they kind of build on top of each other. And as well as, you know, having a closer relationship with the family, with friends and spend more time with them, those are never ending.

So you can only go further with that.

Pat Flynn: Amen to that. You mentioned that you had the idea of writing a book on there. You’ve since done that. How many books? Have you written, what kind of books are they?

Eric Chou: So I’m, my background is engineer in particular network engineering. So if you imagine the internet as a big place, but most people look at the internet as just a wire cable or a wireless cable from one end to the other.

But in actuality, there’s a bunch of devices as well as a bunch of parties, starting with maybe your home broadband connector and to your ISPs and bigger ISP connecting together, underground cable, that sort of stuff. So a network engineer kind of manage those devices, connecting devices together. And that’s what I do.

And so that’s my, my background as network engineer. So for me, the books I write are particularly kind of surrounding those. And in particular is using the programming language called Python to manage those devices. So, so far I’ve published four edition of the same book, which is, you know, the one that sells the best is called Mastering Python Networking, but also the derivative of that, such as this technology called Kafka, which probably most of your listeners won’t know about it, it sounds very technical.

It is, it is somewhat kind of a day two operation. So that’s a book on that. I, by daytime, I’m also a security researcher. So I’ve written a book with O’Reilly on distributed denial of service. So, so on and so forth. I also counted as a translation project, if you will. So I translated the third edition of mastering Python networking in traditional Chinese.

So for me, you know, almost as big of a lift as, as much of a work in writing a book and translating that book, since I only graduated from elementary school in Taiwan before I came to the United States, so that’s almost a kind of just a, a, a big lift for me, at least. Yeah.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. Well, that’s incredible. I love to see when a person in our audience sets out a goal for themselves and then achieves it.

And you’ve done that with the book and you continue to generate passive income from the work that you do. You’re building this community now, which is amazing. What was your first step getting online and taking this technical knowledge that you have and putting it out there kind of attempting to go down this road of generating passive income with what you do.

What was the first step for you? And when was this?

Eric Chou: The first step I would, it’s kind of fuzzy at this point, but I would say what stood out in my memory, the first step was to writing blogs. And this was, I want to say about the 2010, 2011 timeframe. And what I wanted to do was just to share my knowledge. I know I made my fair amount of mistakes and I wanted to help people not to make those mistakes again.

So I started to write about the projects I’m doing, the mistakes I’ve done, and trying to help others in sharing that knowledge, and I think I, continue to do the block for about four years, I would say. And during that time for people in my space, no, there’s this transition called software defined networking.

And that’s where people starts to, you know, instead of buying big box brand name, switching routers, they actually go out and have your open source project. It started out with the Stanford University. So essentially that was the subject that. Was brand new. And at the time I was able to leverage that movement.

And one of my blog posts really took off and ranked really high on Google search and just organic search wise, and a publisher came out and look at that blog post and asked me if I wanted to kind of expand on that and write a book about it, and that’s kind of just go, go from there. So it really started out with just writing blog posts and sharing my knowledge.

Pat Flynn: Well, with something so technical, like what it is that you do, what were those blog posts like? Was it a lot of charts and, or more stories kind of what, what does a technical person in the audience do to share that knowledge out there in the best way? What does that look like?

Eric Chou: Very, very technical. So no nonsense, no story.

There’s no character arc. It was basically here, here’s how you do this thing. And it could be anywhere between 500 to 1500 words. What I find is, you know, anything longer than 1500 words, people kind of lost interest. It’s only the the most dedicated would stick around. So depending on your goal, you may or may not want that, right?

Like you, maybe you want to just be self selected on the reader and write, you know, like a super long blog posts, if you will. But what I find was if you could break those down into the most precise bits, that actually helps your ranking as well. It’s just, this is how you do it. And you know, one, two, three, four, five.

Well, I’m going to tell you this. Here’s how you do it. One, two, three, and I’m going to conclude by summarize all of that. And bam, that’s it.

Pat Flynn: So here’s the big question. With something so technical and seemingly informational in terms of, okay, a person searching for something, they end up on your blog to learn how to do it.

How do you then build community from that? Because it’s very seemingly transactional in terms of the information you share and then they just kind of take it and go. What kinds of things did you do to start cultivating a community within this, this world that you’re in?

Eric Chou: Well, a lot of advice is from you and the SPI community.

So I started out with a newsletter and so I kind of capture that attention and, you know, try and ask people if you want to hear more from me, here’s where you could sign up for a newsletter. And I mean, there are various platforms from it, but you know, when I first started out, I had no idea. So I, I kind of read what you advocate and that’s where I found the ConvertKit.

So ConvertKit is to this day, still what I use. And then when I tried to start a community or trying to have more channels for communications. Cause you know, people, some newsletters, great, but some people learn via videos. Some people learn via audio even. So how do I, you know, kind of meet people where they are.

I look at your community again and you know, sure enough, you know, you advocate Circle and that’s what I use for the no code solution and so on. So I think for me is maybe. It’s kind of how I build my community to is being that trusted voice and kind of save people from experimenting 10 different tools and then find out the one that you like.

So I found, you know, your content, your community on SPI, and I kind of just aggregate all those, those information. So when I need to buy the mic, I look at what, what you use as the mic and I go buy it and save me a lot of trouble on just experimenting. So I think that’s how, I don’t know if that answers your question on how I look at this this path.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. I mean, it does. I want to ask a few more questions. So a person comes on your blog, for example, or now listens to your podcast, somehow comes across your stuff. You’re pushing them into an email list. How are you doing that? Is it just simply more information that’s going to get into their inbox or what is the benefit of coming onto your email list?

Eric Chou: I think the email list is one thing, but what I find is people also want to consume the content where they are. So I kind of just have them connect with me on LinkedIn and I want to meet where they are. So I will, I have a YouTube channel where I. Well, I don’t do this anymore because the podcast is partnering up with Packet Pusher.

But previously I would record the podcast episode. I will also record video, post it on my YouTube channel. So I think for me, my main thing is not to push my medium toward the listener, reader, whatnot, but meet them where they are. So for example, for people who wants a more chat like interface or a closer handholding on some of the examples at the end of the each chapter of the book, starting from the fourth edition, I would include a QR code for the Circle community so they could come in. So right now I kind of don’t do email lists anymore, but rather to just to aggregate everybody into the circle community because they have chat. They have events, they have, you know, even just a blog post, like text kind of a consumption.

So I think that to me is a good aggregation point. And obviously, you know, if you do videos, I don’t even post on YouTube that much, but rather just to use loom to record the video and post into the community. So right now the, the community is sort of where I aggregate everything. And, you know, podcast being another way for people to consume where, you know, it just gets pushed down to them and delivered to them as opposed to they have, you know, log on if they’re in the car, you know, there’s no way they could log onto the browser.

Pat Flynn: I like that. So most things are getting pushed to. the Circle community. And is that a free community? Is that a paid community? Tell me a bit about what that community is like and the structure of it.

Eric Chou: Yeah, it’s both. And I’m still kind of in the process of building it. But right now is free to join. And then there’s the Pro membership where, you know, we hold monthly coffee hours.

For the pro members as well as a free members and for the pro member, you know, you, I, I share more of a handholding contents and more technical bids, and obviously a little bit more attention if they run into problems, not to say I would ignore the free members, but you know, I just want to differentiate the two as well.

Pat Flynn: Nice. And what’s the price point to join the pro membership of your community?

Eric Chou: Right now, the month, it’s the monthly fee of 9.99 and you could also pay for a year for $99, which essentially is two months for free.

Pat Flynn: Nice. And how is the community doing? How, how many people you gotten there and how are you keeping it active?

Eric Chou: Yeah, it’s a struggle ’cause I do have a full-time job. And also, like you said, doing the podcast. So those two are the focus right now. So right now the community is a couple of hundred for, you know, I want to say 500, close to 600 for for the community and a certain amount of them are pro memberships.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. I mean, that’s, that’s a good amount of people for especially a niche like this. I mean, the level of authority that you might have and the ability to recommend things and to, you know, honestly share information and help a lot of people at the same time is wonderful when it comes to the events that happen inside of your community, what kinds of like what’s the rhythm of that? How often are people getting something to be a part of? And what are the kinds of things you’re doing to encourage your members to take action on those things.

Eric Chou: Right now, the cadence is regularly one month every month we have in coffee hour and that’s for everybody to join.

And the other ones are for pro members. You know, I kind of advertise my podcast. I kind of advertise my books whenever there’s a special event, especially if there’s a collaboration between say me and some other author on the podcast. Those are the ones that I push out a little bit more. And previously when I was handling the podcast all on my own, I would also record say a, a one minute special question.

Every time I finished a podcast interview with my guests, I would leave one minute for a special question. And that’s being posted only in the pro section of the community.

Pat Flynn: I like that. It’s a little bonus for being in there.

Eric Chou: Right.

Pat Flynn: That’s great. Yep. Getting the community, especially the paid community is, is always a tough thing to do.

And, you know, it takes some time to market that and, you know, to do this on top of a job that you have a nine to five, I’m curious how you fit this in. What is your week like and how, how many hours are you putting into? What it is that you do?

Eric Chou: I would say probably between 10 to 20 hours on top of the job that I have, the full time job that I have, and that’s being spread around podcasts and the community and at times writing assignments.

So, you know, besides the book, you know, sometimes I will write blog posts whether paid or non paid. So 10 to 20 hours, that’s probably a right amount of average. And obviously, you know, I hope, hopefully one day I could increase the, the share of what I work on my own projects versus the full time job. But as you know, and as many of the members from your community, no, it’s, I don’t really know when to take that, take that step forward.

You know, it almost, to me, I feel like it’s almost like I’ve reached a point where I have to make a decision. You can’t continue. It’s not sustainable to always having to, you know, work full time job and having three or four different projects at the same time. So I think I’m at that point where. I want to make a decision maybe sooner rather than later about whether I want to do this full time or if I could do this full time.

Pat Flynn: Because if you had more time to put into it, it could generate more revenue, but it’s not generating enough revenue yet to make it feel safe to make that jump yet.

So it’s kind of a chicken and an egg kind of situation, what is going through your mind when you’re having those conversations with yourself? What are some of the the worries or the challenges that you are feeling when you think about that that leap?

Eric Chou: Yeah, I think the number one worry. I don’t know if it’s justified or not but I’m from Taiwan and the number one worry I don’t know if this is a US thing, but it’s really health insurance.

And as you know in the year. Oh, it’s yeah.

Pat Flynn: Yeah, it’s it’s a very big concern here for sure.

Eric Chou: Right, right. I mean a lot of people maybe are you you know, one major medical emergency away from being broken. There’s various studies on that. So that’s always the number one concern I have. And the other is whenever you’re building a safety net right now, and I’m being totally transparent here is it never felt enough.

So for me, you know, I grew up as a immigrant, as a single parent, you know, family, so didn’t grow up very, very much. So I think that kind of plays in my psychev a little bit on, you know, how much is enough, you know when you, when you have a number, you hit that number and then that number become a bigger number and that number become a bigger number.

So now it’s in the, I want to say almost in the millions where, you know, with the inflation and with all that that’s going on, it’s almost like, when is that safety net big enough for me to just go and take that plunge? So is it the, the monthly recurring revenue that I need to generate or so on? So I think.

I don’t know if it’s just me or if it’s other people who have the same kind of concerns and worry, but those are my biggest criteria when it comes to my, yeah.

Pat Flynn: I mean, you’re definitely not alone. I think there’s a lot of people listening who can completely feel you on that from the healthcare thing to the safety net and just not feeling quite sure.

The one thing I’ve learned, and it’s obviously different for every person and it’s a decision that you have to make with the people around you and your life and what’s important. But what I’ve learned in my experience is that there’s never a time where it feels like, where it feels right, right? Where it feels like, okay, I got all the things figured out so that when I make this decision, I know it’s, it’s good.

Very rarely do I see people who jump into it have that kind of comfort. In fact, It often comes with a lot of discomfort, but the discomfort can really add that pressure that’s required for you for a person to take the risks that they wouldn’t normally take right or to reach out to the people that they wouldn’t normally reach out to and make that leap.

So, you know, the community is here for you, no matter whether you want to move into that or not. But I definitely think that, you know, we could always feel like we need more before making a decision. But at the same time, we don’t also want to make a decision that might hurt us or our family, right? So it’s, it’s a tough one.

It’s a tough one for sure. And that’s, that’s something that I’ve worked through with a number of my students, and it takes several calls to kind of coach them through that decision making process. But, you know, in terms of, you know, the amount of money you’re generating through your online businesses on the side, how well is that doing for you and how kind of far do you feel you are away from, at least for that particular component being close to a point where it might feel like a better decision in terms of, how much revenue you’re making? Are you kind of close to where you’re at in terms of your current nine to five? Or I’m just curious to know where you’re at with that segment of it.

Eric Chou: Yeah. I think maybe it’s a blessing and a curse where, you know, I’ve always been in high tech and engineering and you know, I, ex Amazonian, ex Microsofty, at the senior and the principal level engineering.

So it’s, it’s never, I don’t know. I don’t know if the, if I continue to do the passive income thing on the side, it could ever reach even 50 percent of the, total compensation package that we received from the nine to five. I think that’s part of the challenge is just that if you look at a, a steady income that is for better, for worse, for, you know, pretty much on the high end of a salary range and that’s, that’s not even counting the stock options and bonuses, then you knowing that you would never reach that level.

So what, what is that percentage? Is it 50%? Is it 30% that you make a okay living for the family as well? So for me, it’s not, not that close on the, the salary, but for me, I think it’s also about chasing, chasing that goal. So even when I was at Microsoft, when I was, you know, during, toward the end of my time at Microsoft was I was miserable and, and I did the Elon Musk challenge, I would call it because I was reading, you know, Elon Musk’s story. And he was talking about when he, back when he was in Canada, he actually thought about starting his own business. So he tried to see how much he could survive on a month. So I went out and tried to do the I forgot what it was, but like a hundred dollars for just survive being lunch.

So I think by that standard, like, I guess like ramen break even or, you know, like some, some people reframe it that I could do that on the family level. So I think I’m close, I’m there for ramen break even or whatever term that is, but not at the level where, you know, my, my current 9 to 5 job is.

Pat Flynn: You know what? What I would ask you if we were doing a coaching call together would be something to the likes of, well, do you need to get to the point where you are fully removed from your nine to five? Is there some sort of middle ground where you either optimize the nine to five that you have so that it is something that you enjoy?

You, in fact, don’t and get yourself in a position there, but not worry about leaving it so that all the stuff that happens in business is fine to be on the side. I think a lot of us feel like we have to either go all in on one or all in on the other, and that’s it. But there’s, there’s definitely a middle ground.

And it reminds me of a book called Company of One by Paul Jarvis, who basically is like, it’s okay if you’re on the side and it’s small. And, and if you’re, happy with that and it’s doing what it does for the life that you want, then that’s great. And there’s, you know, try not to get so bogged down or, you know, encouraged by what other people are doing.

You need to figure out what works for, for you and your path. So what’s your response to that in terms of like, what if this was just on the side and it was, you know, growing, but it didn’t take any more hours and you still had the security of the nine to five, whether it ever be a scenario that it would satisfy you and you’d be totally happy with it.

Maybe you’re there. I don’t know. I’m just curious.

Eric Chou: I think I’m, I’m there. So I’ve read that book, maybe upon your recommendation or whatnot. I think I read the Company Of One along with, a Hundred Dollars Startup like together. So that kind of came in a bundle for me, I think for, for that, you know, I certainly don’t have to optimize for salary at this point, so, you know, definitely I remember a couple of years ago when I was interviewing and in fact, I got an offer from the Gates foundation where, you know, it’s really mission driven, the salary may not be as good, but if you look at a lot of things that they were doing, you know, really fits kind of where my passion is and you know, certainly benefits the other people, but at the time I wasn’t, you know, I wasn’t generating enough income for the, the other projects. So I didn’t, and for those who don’t know, I don’t know, it was a contractor position. So I, I was really close at taking that position, but decided to not do it because we were a contractor.

But, you know, given that chance today, I probably would, you know, take that position and so on. I mean, not to say I don’t like my nine to five at this time, but. But just, you know, based on the question that you asked and, you know, based on the context of the conversation is that I don’t need to optimize for salary at this point, and I could just go for the happy medium, if you will.

Pat Flynn: Yeah, and optimize for happy, right? I think, which is great. Is that something that you could potentially get in front of you again, that opportunity to do something like that? Or was that kind of just like a one time opportunity?

Eric Chou: Well, for for Gates Foundation in particular, I think that was that that particular time because you know, the hiring cycle is a little different, the project, the handling is a little different.

And right now my wife is actually going back to school for her master’s for the next year. So, you know, anything that we talked about would probably be after that, but definitely something that’s heavy on my mind on, and, and I thank you for all the advice and all the, you know, you know, kind of just ad hoc coaching call that we’re doing right here.

Pat Flynn: Yeah, we’re just thinking this through.

Eric Chou: Yeah. Yeah. So for sure. For sure. It’s definitely something that I would, I would consider.

Pat Flynn: Now going back to the limited time that you have, you know, you have your nine to five can stick with it for now with the limited time that you do have to work on stuff on the side, what’s your process for prioritizing what you do with those hours?

Eric Chou: I think right now I am prioritizing projects that could kind of complement each other from the nine to five. So for me, you know, I’m still a, in a very much a consulting network engineering role. So on the side projects, obviously everybody wants an AI story.

So in the next book that I write, or in the process of working out with the editor is to write about AI in network engineering. And that way it doesn’t feel like I have to do context switching when I’m writing or when I’m working. So I think that’s my prioritization process to extend that a little bit for the podcast.

It’s called network automation nerds. So every, you know, all the guests that I interview or all the contacts I’ve made for the podcast could actually benefit what I do on the, on the nine to five. So I think in that sense, everything is kind of moving toward the same direction. So I think for me, that is the priority is to make sure that I don’t optimize for money. I don’t optimize for anything else, but rather than just to make sure that everything’s moving in the same direction and all the project compliments each other. So maybe there’s, there’s more money to be made if I write like the fifth edition of mastering Python networking.

But I think with the way things are moving toward, you know, I’d rather go spend a little bit more time, more effort, more energy, but write an AI networking book.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. I mean, AI is, is definitely taking over and I think that’s really smart, you know, combining. What it is that you do in your nine to five with the side project.

In, in, in a way, if I was more understanding of the opportunities I had available when I was doing architecture, I could have started my online business before getting laid off, right? And, and, and I could have kind of had both the business on the side while also helping myself in my nine to five and getting promotions.

But I needed to get kicked out in order to sort of be open to and even understand the opportunities that were available to me. And I like that, that you’re doing that. It kind of reminds me, there’s a book that recently came out. I think it’s called like The King’s Fly Swatter. And it’s this kind of parable about a guy who worked for a king and he was his whole, his whole job was to just swap flies away from the king that he served because he was with the king the whole time he learned a lot and he was able to understand what the problems were and the concerns were, and he was able to build his own life from just being there and doing the dirty work first, but also thinking about what are the problems happening here that I could serve over there. And I think it’s really smart of you to do that because you can kind of, it almost is like double dipping in a way. Is there, with the company that you work for on the nine to five, is there any worry of, I mean, I know that there’s some bosses who wouldn’t be happy with people doing something on the side that relates to the job that they do.

Tell me about that and has that ever been a worry for you or a concern?

Eric Chou: I think it was a worry for me in the beginning when it was just for starting out maybe seven years ago when I, you know, first write that book, obviously, you know, that’s taken away some of the energy, at least even if you do it during, you know, nights and weekends, right?

Like your mind is not completely off the book when you’re writing that process. So initially it was a worry and definitely when starting my podcast, you know, the concerns are always there where. You know, sometimes because you’re, you have to adjust for your guests is scheduling and all the other things that surrounding the, the logistic really is, I mean, the interview is the easy part is the logistics surrounding it.

That’s, that’s really time consuming. So there’s always that concern. I would say that is, that plays into a fact when, you know, you’re doing, when I was doing the job search is to make sure they could code exist. And luckily, you know, this current job that I have is, is not much of a concern because first of all, I don’t think you could do this in a more, I guess, a fortune 500 or a fortune, you know, 10 companies where, you know, the, the process has to be strictly enforced or, you know, the NDA is more strict or non-competes and so on. But luckily I worked with a startup and I knew the founders and you know, I kind of worked with many of the engineers in that organization. So coming in, they knew of me as the person with the podcast or the author and so on.

So those were kind of prior arts that they come taken as a package. But I would say, you know, because we’re you know, doing this as a, as an episode and I don’t know who the people are listening to, but I would definitely want to share that concern is in the beginning, it was definitely a concern and just something you have to, you know, I had to make a choice on and to go for the project, even at the risk of somebody else might not be, you know, like you said, the boss might not be happy about it, right?

Pat Flynn: I mean, there’s many different ways that that scenario could play out. I mean, I know a number of people who still create online despite their bosses or their work not being happy about that and they do it more anonymously or on the side I think there was a a woman she went by the name of Silicon Valley girl way back in the day because she didn’t want to be recognized or you know It wasn’t It wasn’t safe, in fact, for her to talk about these things that were happening in Silicon Valley, especially as a woman.

So she, she wanted to remain anonymous yet still was able to build an incredible blog and incredible following. And I think since then she has been able to kind of open up to who she is really on YouTube more recently, which was pretty cool. Other times, if you can position it as a way that actually benefits the business and benefits the boss or your manager, then it could actually work out in both favors.

If I were to go back in time and I had this idea to create stuff about the lead exam, you know, if I hadn’t gotten laid off, I would position it as a way to create sort of an education program within the company itself and to give them, you know, the access to that information to help all the, you know, the entire company become privy to the green building standards that I was teaching and such.

So anyway, it’s going to be different for every person, but I don’t think we should let the worry of getting fired stop you from doing something that you really enjoy, there’s something that lights you up, you know, whose life are you building? Are you going to build your own? Are you going to just simply be there to work on building somebody else’s?

And that’s, that’s a big question that, you know, can take some time to understand and some, you know, conversation to, to work through. You’d mentioned LinkedIn earlier. Your LinkedIn is Eric Cho, and actually it’s So people can connect with you there if they have any questions or want to, want to follow up.

Tell me a little bit about your LinkedIn strategy. You mentioned it just briefly, but how are you approaching LinkedIn and what has it really done for you and your career so far?

Eric Chou: So first of all, it’s a linkedin. com slash in slash Cho Eric. And obviously we know we’re having the show notes. Initially for social media in general I was trying to do you know what I’ve, I’ve talked about me people where they are. So I had a Twitter account, I had a Instagram, I had LinkedIn, but eventually, you know, because of all the, you know, all the different social media algorithm, I don’t want to be tracked. And so I’m being a security researcher.

I was, you know, you know, finding out stuff where I don’t feel comfortable in being everywhere and being so involved. So what I decided to do was just to concentrate on one. And, you know, for me, LinkedIn is the most kind of button up, everybody’s more polite and there’s less trolls. So that’s one of the reasons where I picked LinkedIn over Twitter or, or X, or, you know, some of the other social media platforms and after I picked LinkedIn and luckily I was, my courses are on LinkedIn Learning. So I actually have the access to the LinkedIn learning community instructor group where, you know, they kind of share some of the strategies on building your LinkedIn profile, as well as some of the I want to say beta features. So for example, the LinkedIn creator profile was available for LinkedIn learning instructors before it was available to the public.

They also share some of the analytics on, you know, how do you, how do you make yourself stand up and so on. So for example, right now, I don’t know if people know about the, for example, the creator mode. So, you know, once you enable your creator mode, some of the sections on the feature stuff could get bubbled up, up higher on your profile.

Could have a sound button where you could pronounce, like for example, if your heart, your last name is hard to pronounce, or if you want to go by something else, then you could have a sound button next to your name. So you could click on it and so on and so forth. So I think those are some of the things that maybe it’s not like a home run, but a couple of, you know, there’s new features here new features there that I was able to leverage.

So if people wanted to. You know, if you want to reach out for sure, you know, take a look at my LinkedIn profile. I don’t claim to be a very glamorous or spending a lot of time on it, but I do have, you know, a couple of things, you know, for example, the, the feature section where you could have a big box of, you know in this case, my podcast, the two LinkedIn learning course, as well as my book that have the four sections where people could just scroll out, you know, you don’t want to have 10, you want to have whatever you prioritize the most.

And at this time is the podcast also have top networking engineering voice. So for example, you know, that little badge is you could earn up to two, but you can only display one, for example. So I kind of rotate between top cloud voice and top network engineering voice and so on. So I don’t know if that helps, but essentially those are the, like the little things where you kind of tweak along the way when, when you learn about new features, see which one works well.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. I mean, it looks really good and I’m seeing your courses here. Some of your courses have 15,000 learners, your net ops course. And I don’t know what that is, but it sounds like it’s doing really well. What is the deal with LinkedIn Learning and the courses there are those you get paid when people come and learn from you there.

And what’s that deal structure like if you’re allowed to share that?

Eric Chou: Yeah. Oh no, definitely. So I think most of the courses, the online learning, I mean, Udemy aside, that’s a different business model, but most of the, the online learning platform nowadays, LinkedIn Learning, for example, are subscription based and they deal with mostly to B2B.

So usually companies come in, they buy a bunch of seats and they have unlimited access to the hours. So that becomes a kind of a interesting aspect of how do you pay the content provider? So what they typically do, you know, the plural sides and the LinkedIn learning of the world is they take an aggregated on how many minutes are watched on their platform.

And how many of those minutes are your minutes? Right. So then, you know, they kind of divided the total pool minus all the overheads and divided down into on the per minute level and on your minutes, it’s kind of your fair share and all of that, or your fair share for the course. And out of that, it’s whatever percentage royalty that you have to, to have a percentage of that.

Pat Flynn: Oh, interesting.

Eric Chou: Yeah. So the structure that’s. Kind of the overall structure. And that’s the same for, you know, like I said, the plural size and the LinkedIn learning of the world. But then the detail is, you know, how many what, what is your royalty percentage, you know, as a new author or new content creator versus a experienced one, that percentage, a little bit different and each of the platforms may or may not attract the same amount of base minutes, if you will, the, or the base credibility or the, the diversity of the courses, so, you know, so you take those two into account. So for a smaller platform, they may not have as many subscribers. So you, you may be able to get a higher royalty percentage. And for, you know, LinkedIn learning, for example, you know, there are known players, so they’re the base is bigger, but your royalty percentage, you might be a little bit slower.

So as a content provider, if you’re thinking about going down that route, those are the things that you, you want to consider. And of course, you know for me linkedIn learning is also a great way to build up your reputation, to establish your authority. Back into that, what we talked about is being everything working toward the same direction, right?

So that, you know, that having the authority on LinkedIn, you know, kind of helped me on my day job and the day job helps the podcast, the podcast helps writing more books and contents and so on. So, you know, hopefully that paints a good picture on how those are tying together.

Pat Flynn: I really like that, this sort of holistic approach using both your own side projects along with your 9 to 5 to create sort of a, a more authoritative and valuable Eric, no matter where Eric is going, whether it’s for your own stuff or for the nine to five. And so I see top network engineering voice here. You said top cloud voice as well. So we’re getting some authority on LinkedIn, which obviously helps people feel more confident in the courses. that they have.

Can anybody create a course on LinkedIn learning? How does one begin that?

Eric Chou: I think what they do as most learning and publishers, they actually have a form to suggest new ideas, to promote your your own idea. And somebody will evaluate that. But for me, you know, even before LinkedIn learning, I started out with smaller platforms on this platform called Internetwork Expert, you know, doing courses there.

And you know, through pack publishing has some video courses there as well. So for LinkedIn learning in particular, what I try to get at is you could always fill out that form to have your ideas evaluated. But for me in particular, since I was already in the industry, the editor, which was the editor whom I worked with at O’Reilly publishing, you know, moved to LinkedIn learning and she reached out cause that was the area that she was responsible for and one thing led to another, that’s how I got started at LinkedIn learning, but there’s always ways to do that for, you know, traditional publishers. And I’ve gotten book deals where you know, I didn’t, I didn’t follow through, but I’ve got really close to just by filling out a form online and pointing them and have them, you know, have your idea being considered.

Pat Flynn: Nice Eric. That’s great. And then final question here is. When you have a LinkedIn learning course, how much work are you doing to bring those learners in? I see one with 15,000, another with 10,000. I mean, those are actual people going through the course, which obviously adds to the watch time and your overall payments.

Are they doing that in terms of pushing out new learners and how much of that are they doing for you? Or, or is that all you? Kind of working to get those learners in there. How does that work?

Eric Chou: Yeah, because I’ve worked with different publishers and platforms and both in book format as well as online classes.

I know it’s a combination of both and it really depends on the platform. LinkedIn learning in particular, you’re not going to beat the algorithm or the amount of reach that they could do for you. Most of that is through their algorithm. But of course, at the same time. You know, you want to, as you can see from my LinkedIn banner, right?

Like I have that LinkedIn learning on the top, and I also have those courses on the feature section. So it’s a little bit of both. You, you do what you can, but what I found out is for a platform like LinkedIn and slash LinkedIn learning. You know, if they’re promoting your course, so and there are other ways to it.

You’re not going to, if they promote your course, you’re not going to be the algorithm. And I also want to mention that, you know, it always is comes and goes because it’s whatever the initiative is. So right now they’re actually pushing through an initiative of having a network engineering certification bundle.

So if your course is actually included in that bundle, and then they promote that bundle, that actually propels it to the, to the front, but you know, at the same time, it’s not like you own your own platform where you do and you, you drive a lot of their initiatives. So that’s the kind of a give and take there’s always that platform risk.

But in this particular case is they do most of the work.

Pat Flynn: Nice. It’s really great to hear. Man, congratulations, Eric. This is wonderful. And I know even though this is on the side, it seems to be going extremely well for you. And as you optimize your career and your life, you know, you’ve got a lot of options moving forward.

So I’m excited to see where things go from here. But for now, just again, thank you so much for coming on and sharing kind of the insights of what this very technical space looks like and how you’re monetizing it and what you’re doing with it. One more time, where can people go to follow and connect with you?

Eric Chou: LinkedIn is probably the best place to connect with me. And that’s So hope to connect with all the listeners. And again, it’s, it’s a pleasure to be here. It’s quite an honor to kind of see you in person and you know, thank you so much.

Pat Flynn: Thank you, Eric. This has been fun.

Alright, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Eric Cho, again from Network Automation Nerds, author of Mastering Python Networking, again super technical, but even so, the ability to bring people together in that space to learn from each other. And at the same time, while still remaining at his nine to five and almost kind of using that to support the side business and vice versa, I think it’s a great way to go about it.

Something that I wish I thought about before I had gotten laid off because I could have used that to my advantage. Obviously things did work out, but. Things work out the way they’re supposed to, no matter what. But I think it’s important to take hold of those opportunities that are in front of you. And speaking of opportunity, if you happen to be curious about SPI Pro and want to join the community that Eric and so many other entrepreneurs are a part of, you can get access to experts in residence there, myself and events, and of course, support masterminds conversations that are happening for your growing business.

Head on over to, And you’ll see that as well as our All Access Pass there for you. We have people joining every day and we’d love to welcome you and have you be a part of the conversation there as well. So we can support you on your way. Thank you for listening all the way through.

Thank you to Eric for coming on as well. And again, you can find them on LinkedIn, Go ahead and say, hi, and you can check out his profile, all the courses that he has there. And although they might not be relevant to you, it’s definitely relevant that he’s an action taker and we’re all just trying to figure this out together.

And that’s why we’re here. Thanks so much. I appreciate you looking forward to seeing you in the next one. Cheers.

Thank you so much for listening to the Smart Passive Income podcast at I’m your host, Pat Flynn. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Our senior producer is David Grabowski, and our executive producer is Matt Gartland. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media, and a proud member of the Entrepreneur Podcast Network. Catch you next week!

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