Here's your chance to peek behind the scenes of Homebrew Academy.
I was recently interviewed on one of the top business podcasts on iTunes: “Bacon Wrapped Business” (cool name of a show, right?!). Brad interviews all types of business owners and entrepreneurs and on our episode, we discussed how and why I started Homebrew Academy after college, taking a passion and turning into a side hustle and then a full time business.
Brad called it the Beer Money Blueprint (it's got a nice little ring to it).
You'll see behind the scenes, how I founded the site and how I earn a living from it while trying to serve the homebrewing community.
You might enjoy this if you've ever wanted to see what it's like to make money from you hobbies or passions.
Even a little extra beer money to pay for our expensive hobby that is homebrewing.
The fact is, it's never been easier to do what I did or something similar. Whether you create a side-hustle for a few extra bucks or want to build an empire, now's a pretty good time to get started (and a lot easier than it was 8 years ago when Hombrew Academy was founded).
I hope you enjoy this expose'.
Brad – Hey there, welcome to Bacon Wrapped Business. My name's Brad. I'm your host today where I interview thought leaders, experts, entrepreneurs, and people that have really done amazing things, whether it's creating a side hustle, or building a hundred million dollar business. This is an amazing chance for me to get to pick the brains of people who have just doing impressive things out there in the world and today is absolutely no different.
Today, I invited my friend Billy Bross on the show. He is the founder of the HomebrewAcademy.com, and he's been one of the leading experts in helping homebrewers and passionate craft beer lovers around the world get started, refine their craft, and even turn pro. What really amazes me about what Billy has done is he took a passion, a hobby, homebrewing, something that he was starting to do anyway, and we're gonna find out about his journey, and he turned it into, first a side hustle, and then a real business, and he's gone on to do some really amazing things.
And this is just gonna be a great way to show you how anything is possible, especially these days in this environment with technology, and internet, and just there's really no excuse not to have a side hustle, and take something you're really passionate about, and maybe even have it make you money. So that being said, I'd like to welcome Billy to the show. Billy, how are you my brother?
Billy – Hey, doing great Brad. Thanks for having me.
Brad – Yeah, it's really great to see what you've done with this. I've been a big fan, and I'm a beginning homebrewer, cutting my teeth, and trying to figure it all out, and I know Homebrew Academy has been a tremendous resource for me. Let's go back in time a little bit.
Like how, first of all, how long has Homebrew Academy been around? When did you start that?
Billy – It officially started in 2010.
Brad – 2010, it's 2018 now, so that's about 8 years. That's fantastic. How long have you been homebrewing though?
Billy – I started homebrewing in college, my junior year in college. I'd like to say I was 21 when I started, but to be honest, it's probably a few months before that.
Brad – Maybe authorities, we'll tell them it's 21.
Billy – Right yeah, if the school asks, it was definitely 21, but my roommate and I got into it together. We liked to throw parties and have a good time, and we thought, what better than to serve our own beer, and it'd be a good way to advertise at parties, and get some people over and just have fun serving our own stuff and experimenting. So after that, it was just this kind of goofy thing we wanted to do turned into something pretty cool.
Brad – So do you remember how you first learned how to figure it out? You decided, hey let's do this. You know, did you buy a starter kit, or where did you get the education on how to begin homebrewing?
Billy – Yeah, so my roommate already knew how to brew a little bit, because his brother-in-law was an experienced homebrewer. And that's the way that a lot of homebrewers learn. It's very much a pay-it-forward kinda hobby, where you're brewing and then you invite your friends over to do it with you, next thing you know, all of you guys are brewing together.
So that's how I got into it, but then I quickly, as I tend to do with things, geeked out on it, and started buying all the books and reading up on the homebrew forums. I was very active on a website called HomeBrewTalk back then.
Brad – I'm familiar with that.
Billy – Spent a little time, yeah, reading things. So yeah, really just got super into it and learned all the ins and outs.
Brad – Now was it hard to find a lot of the information out there? Kinda piecing it together and maybe YouTube videos and everything else or was it? What were some of the bigger challenges when you started out?
Billy – That was a challenge, yeah, because back then YouTube was really just getting off the ground and there weren't a whole lot of videos about it out there. And so it was mainly text, and it's a very visual process. So there tends to be a disconnect when you're just reading about it in this very technical book, versus actually doing it in your kitchen. And that's actually what led me to creating a website and starting out doing videos, which became very popular.
Brad – What gave you the idea to start Homebrew Academy?
Billy – Yeah, so I started it when I was in grad school, or just wrapping up grad school, getting my MBA. And I went to work in the corporate world, in the power industry. So I was working with the companies that send you your electric bill in the mail every month, those guys. So very different from homebrewing.
And I wanted a creative outlet, and something kind of entrepreneurial. I didn't intend on really making a lot of money or anything from it, but I thought that it could be something that I could monetize, and do what you're talking about, and have, maybe, a lifestyle business. Or at least pay some bills. Pay for the beer I was drinking.
Brad – Look, a little beer money, right? You bring up one really great point. I talk a lot about this. I've done an entire episode on this, and I think it's a really cool concept that people can take from, is there's a big trend out there, everybody wants to be an entrepreneur, right?
But there's a big difference between trying to be an entrepreneur, and just being entrepreneurial. Because being an entrepreneur takes, is an entirely different shift in everything you're doing. Oftentimes it means quitting your job, and starting something new and risky, and this new venture may be raising money, and taking risks. Being entrepreneurial simply means finding a need in the marketplace, or finding something that you can fill a gap. And sometimes that's asking questions, sometimes that's, you know, what's not out there that I would buy, if it existed? Or what's a group or a community I could create?
And sometimes just paying attention to some of the opportunities out there allow you to be entrepreneurial, even if you have your own job, even if you have your own business, and you just kind of want a side hustle, make that extra beer money. So I think that's great. Now Homebrew Academy makes its money in a few different ways, 'cause I'm sure you started off just doing videos, and blog posts, etc.
Billy – Correct.
Brad – But it soon turned into actually, a moneymaker. So what are some of the ways that Homebrew Academy helps pay your beer money?
Billy– Yeah, so, there's a few ways. So one is affiliate sales. So that's when people come to the website, and I recommend a product. So a lot of the posts on the website are recommending kits, or equipment, or ingredients, or certain vendors. And when there is a company or piece of equipment I stand behind, I link to it using an affiliate link. And so when people click on that link and they purchase, I get a cut of that. So the person, the customer, doesn't pay any more, and then the vendor, whoever they bought it from, I'm in a program with them and I can see how many clicks I get, and my earnings for the month. So that's one of the primary sources of revenue, is the affiliate–
Brad – Yeah, I love affiliate marketing, it's a tremendous way to be able to provide reviews, add value to the marketplace, and not cost the consumer anything. But if they're doing research and they're providing a better research experience before the prospective buyer buys it, if they buy through your link the company's paying you for that. And I've noticed that, you know, there's, it's just a tremendous way to create a side hustle, if you don't want to take on the risks of starting a big operation, and buying equipment and selling it, and doing all that other stuff. So I think that–
Billy – Right.
Brad – And then you also have courses that you have created at Homebrew Academy, correct?
Billy – Right, yeah, so that's the bulk of the revenue, is from the online courses, yeah.
Brad – Right. Now a lot of, I mean, there's so much information out there such as on YouTube now, there's a million homebrewing videos, and blogs, and forums, and all this stuff.
What's the real benefit of somebody investing in a course versus just going out there on YouTube or blogs and kind of piecing it together themselves?
Billy – Right, so what I've found was that actually, the people that bought my courses, that was the reason that they bought the courses, was because there was so much free content on YouTube. And what they told me was that there was just so much, it was overwhelming. And these people, they don't have a whole lot of time. No one has any time these days. And so they're thinking, man, I can pay $47 or $100 for this course, and it's all just there for me in this nice, tight package, or I can spend hours and hours digging through YouTube, piecing things together. And a lot of those videos that you find are not very comprehensive, or they're out of sequence. So you don't get the video before, or the step in that process that comes before, or the step that comes afterwards. And so you don't know, you don't know if there's something missing. And when you buy a course, at least you know that everything is there that you need. And if you fail on a batch, like people do in homebrewing, that's a big cost. I mean, that's a lot of hours making it, that's months of waiting, and a good amount of money down the drain. So it gives them a lot of confidence, having–
Brad – It sounds like it saves them a lot of time, it makes it easier, it kind of removes all the stuff that maybe they're watching a video that's out of dated. Or maybe they're watching something that really doesn't work and hasn't been tested. I've always loved that. I've been a big investor in courses around marketing, and business, and personal development, and things, because to me it just saves time and money.
Billy – Well, also too, who's going to have the better video, or course, or product? The guy who got paid or the guy who didn't get paid for it?
Brad – Absolutely.
Billy – I can take the revenue and put it back into better lighting, and just put more time into it. If you're just doing a YouTube video and you didn't get paid, you don't really care so much about the quality of it. At least, not as much as the guy who's doing it for his business.
Brad – You're absolutely right. I've been in the business of serving entrepreneurs, especially online entrepreneurs, who are building products and communities for at least over 10 years, and what I really love is, back then, when I started out, and maybe when you started out as well, I mean, yeah, it was eight years ago when you started Homebrew Academy, the technology was a lot more challenging. It was a lot harder. I had to learn HTML, and I had to learn a lot of those things.
What I love today about a lot of the capabilities out there, is with very little tech skills, if any, you can create an entire community of people who follow you, who will either buy your stuff, or take your recommendations, and allow you to get paid simply by serving the market. And some of that is as, I mean, sometimes you can build a blog, like you did, like a beer blog.
Or you can build products. Or you can, if you don't want to go tech route at all, you can create a Facebook group, a Facebook community. And you just use them to bring people in, and just add value. And I think that's really the key to understanding how to create a real side hustle, is who can you add value to, and how can you do it? ‘Cause there's a million ways under the sun out there. I know I share that a lot on my podcast, and with my listeners and other folks.
What would you tell your friends, followers, fellow homebrewers, right now, who are watching this, and they're like, man, this sounds pretty cool. Like, I got a job I like, but yeah, this is an expensive hobby, and I mean, everybody likes a little extra beer money. Or people like the opportunity to maybe, you know, get into another business. What are some of the cool things that you would recommend they think about or look into now? Like, if you were starting from scratch?
Billy – Yeah, you really just want to immerse yourself in your market. So, go to where these people are hanging out. Whether it's forums, or Facebook groups are phenomenal for this. And go in there and really just listen to people. I think a big mistake people make is that they have this idea of what they want to sell, and what they want to sell is not necessarily what people want to buy. And so you want to find that overlap between the thing that you like to teach, and the thing that people are willing to pay for. And the way that you do that is really just by listening.
And the tools that we have for doing that now, on social media, are better than ever. And with that said, I do think that there's no substitute for being in person with people as well. So if you can go to events where your market is hanging out, and speak with them face to face, belly to belly, and just talk to them, ask them questions, and really develop that skill of listening, you're gonna hear what they're struggling with, what frustrates them. And then it's pretty simple, you just flip that around and create a solution for it, and then put it in front of them.
Brad – Absolutely. Now what are some of the skill sets you learned through the trial and error of just starting Homebrew Academy? Obviously you learned how to blog, how to set up a blog. It looks like you use WordPress.
Billy – Yeah.
Brad – What are some of the other skill sets, in general, that have been really valuable to you, throughout the journey, that you've picked up, in just starting off as a hobby?
Billy – Yeah, so the technical skills are important, but less and less, as you were saying, these days. It's so easy to find someone on Upwork or Fiverr that you can outsource that stuff to.
So, I recommend you have a basic knowledge of how to use, how to build a website, how to use WordPress, Facebook and all that. But you don't have to be an expert by any means. Really, the marketing portion is what's the most important. And I learned a lot along those lines. Copywriting was a really big one for me. And just writing in a way that gets people's attention, and keeps them interested, and gets them to click your stuff. So how to write an engaging headline. How to write conversationally.
A lot of people, and I was super guilty of this, because I was working in the corporate world, and I had government agencies as clients, and these utility companies, so I'm not writing for them the same way I'm writing for the beer group. And that was very difficult to make that transition. And so, when you write for something online, and you build a business like this, you have to write like you talk, and you can't write in some kind of stilted, corporate-y government jargon.
Brad – Right, people want to connect with other people on the other end of that. So, as I understand it, this skill set that you've learned of marketing, and running Facebook ads and everything else, has led to a lot of lucrative opportunities down the road now, that, beyond Homebrew Academy, you work with other business owners, and utilizing the skills you've developed along the way to help them grow their business too, is that correct?
Billy – Yeah, so once Homebrew Academy started doing well, my buddies took notice and they started spreading the word, and I started getting clients asking me to help them with their online marketing. So that's been a great thing, is that now I'm working with other online courses. And look, I'm super curious about everything. I just think everything is really cool, and I love online courses and some of the niches that are out there. Really cool niches, like homebrewing. So now I get to help them promote their courses and reach more people with online marketing.
Brad – Right. Do you ever work with professional breweries or brewers, and ever give them advice or anything like that?
Billy – Just informally, just in passing, seeing them at events and things, but never professionally, no.
Brad – Right. Well, I'm sure you've probably got quite a few insights that can help, not only the brand new brewer, but the professional, the person whose got a business, who really understands that this is a– They call it craft brew for a reason, it's an artisan craft and people really, I've noticed in this industry, they really care deeply, passionately, about the product, and the quality of the product they're putting out. And they spend so much time on the quality of it, that when it comes time to actually create a business around it, they, you know, marketing gets kind of left to the side, because it's that necessary evil you have to learn. But ultimately it's one of the most powerful things you can do, is to learn how to take that entrepreneurial spirit and find a gap in the marketplace that you can potentially fill.
Billy – Right.
Brad – And you mentioned earlier, outsourcing, like Upwork and Fiverr. I got introduced to outsourcing about 10 years ago when I read Tim Ferris' book The 4-Hour Workweek, where he talked about the ability to reach out to India and the Philippines, and places that have these great tech stars that you can get for really super cheap to help you accomplish goals that might cost you a lot more. And whether they're overseas or here in the US, I know in my business I outsource technical work to a lot of people.
Have you used outsourcers quite a bit in building HBA?
Billy – Yeah, a decent amount. For all sorts of things from web design, to SEO, to just general maintenance on the website. It's a great way to find some leverage because none of us have enough time and we should really only focus on doing things in our zone of genius. So more and more these days I try to outsource as much as possible.
Brad – Well, that's nice because they're contractors, they can work from home. I assume you work from home, it looks like that's your home, but I don't know if that's a…
Billy – Yep, home office.
Brad – Yeah, but it allows you have a virtual team around the world. I know I've got a virtual team in multiple different countries, and they're not employees, there's not a lot of obligations. They do work, I write them checks. And it makes things just infinitely easier now that we have those opportunities.
Billy, if you had to start all over again, and make extra money in today's world, with today's tools, constraints, other factors, is there anything you would do differently? More of, less of, faster, not at all? Any, kind of, parting advice to the folks listening out there?
Billy – Yeah, building an audience is really important, and that's something I should've focused on more at first. I was very much focused on getting my website perfect, making this logo look really good. But really, if you don't have an audience, then it doesn't matter so much. So start to do that, whether it's an email list is really, in our industry, the ultimate, so you always want to have a big email list, that's what's going to drive most of your revenue.
Brad – A newsletter, something that you can communicate, obviously, what they are.
Billy – Yeah, a newsletter, something like that. But just some way, some kind of an audience, some way to get in front of people and interact with them, and then when you have something to share with them, like a new product or whatever it may be, some way to get that in front of them.
Brad – I think that is tremendous advice for anybody out there. And that brings us to the end of our interview today, but I do want to say that for anybody listening to this, who is at that point of like yeah, this is kind of cool. I want to explore this more. I've never really thought about it in the same ways that myself and Billy have been talking about this and whether you're looking for a side hustle, whether you're looking for a beer money blueprint, or whether you're looking just to expand your options, your horizons, I'll put a link somewhere below or around this video, where you can get more information.
I'm happy to send out some of the resources, tools, opportunities, trainings, that have really been effective for myself, some of my students, and clients as well. To just kind of crack open their brain to what's possible, and find that, whether it's a side hustle, or an entirely new life being entrepreneurial, and taking advantage of your passions and your hobbies.
Any final last words to share with the folks today?
Billy – Yeah, just take action. Don't sit on this kind of thing. Money likes speed so if you want to build a lifestyle business, it really pays to do something about it today, even if it's a really small thing.
Brad – You're right. I think that's fantastic. There's no better time to do it. There's no better way to do it. I'm happy to be a resource for anybody else, and Billy, just as you've been a resource for all these homebrewers globally. I think it's terrific what you've built and I wish you the best of luck and success in absolutely everything you're doing. So thanks for joining us today on Bacon Wrapped Business. Guys, take a look, here on the page somewhere, for any of the other resources that I promised you, and I'll see you on the next episode. Thanks a lot.