The Beautiful Right Turns with Cait Donovan (2/2)

Welcome to episode 215 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share part 2 of a discussion with Cait Donovan, talking through Cait’s experience as a keynote speaker (with tips for speakers at various levels), a business owner, a published author, and a content builder…all within the context of her burnout recovery.

Original Recording Date: 1-21-2023

Cait Donovan spends most of her time giving keynote speeches, recording audio for her podcast (FRIED: The Burnout Podcast), authoring books, and / or working 1-1 with coaching clients who are going through burnout. In case you missed it, part 1 of our discussion with Cait can be found in Episode 214.

Topics – Creating Space and Authoring a Book, A Love for Public Speaking, Charging for Services, Advice for the Content Builder, A Business Owner’s Safety, Breathing Room for the Business, Board of Advisors, The Breakout Speaker and the Keynote Speaker

3:32 – Creating Space and Authoring a Book

  • When Cait was recovering from burnout, she was in Prague with a huge patient list and was booked solid. There was a large community of people who knew what Cait was going through and were reading what she was writing (blogs, etc.).
  • Cait had some people tell her they needed help with some of the areas she was exploring.
    • She started helping them by doing it for free or doing it through bartering / for a very low price.
    • Cait wasn’t doing this to build a business. She wanted there to be a minimal exchange in these situations, and this is how she created it.
  • After getting back to the states and had the achilles issue, she had half of her book written (wrote it while on vacation) and knew it was a great opportunity to finish it.
    • It was hard for her to get back to working on the book after she got back to life post vacation, and with the injury she couldn’t go anywhere and was all the more reason to finish the book.
    • At that same time, she started the podcast and did about 35 interviews in around 5 weeks. It was something else to do.
    • Cait didn’t do the podcast originally to get new clients (not the original intent). After about a year into doing the show, people started asking what her coaching packages were. At first she did not quite know what to tell people.
    • Things kind of built up from there. Once Cait realized she could use the podcast for lead generation she started putting in a promo stating people could hire her as part of the show. It became very intentional after not starting out that way.
  • When asked about her motivations to write a book, Cait cites So You Want to Be a Writer by Charles Bukowski.
    • Cait read this poem as a senior in high school and knew when she read it that someday she would feel like this (what the poem mentions).
    • The idea of having something inside you being so full you just had to get it out really hit Cait as an 18-year-old.
    • When Cait was going through her recovery from burnout, she read all kinds of research. She had all kinds of information built up inside her that if she didn’t get it out into a book, she might not be able to learn any more.
    • Cait felt so full she couldn’t help herself any longer. When she sat down to write while in Croatia on vacation, she had written 20,000 words in 7 days.
    • Writing a book for Cait was nothing more than for the purpose of creating space in her mind and body so she could keep going.
    • The book that came to be as a result here is The Bouncebackability Factor: End Burnout, Gain Resilience, and Change the World. Go get yourself a copy!
    • Indirectly, writing the book added to Cait’s reputation as a speaker and to a lesser extent as a coach.

9:15 – A Love for Public Speaking

  • Cait always loved public speaking.
  • School was easy for Cait growing up. From a young age, she would watch her teacher explain something to the class and notice her classmates did not understand. She thought if she was at the front of the room she would have said it differently.
    • Cait has much less judgement for those people now than she did as a young child (even thinking she would say things differently from some of her speaking sessions after listening back).
    • "I have always wanted to be at the front of the room, the person explaining the things….I am always happy to leave my own words behind and find another way in that suits a listener, a student, a participant." – Cait Donovan
    • Cait loves teaching, and for her speaking is a way to allow people to experience a shift in the time she has with the audience. She wants people to understand they are not alone, something can be done differently, that there is another option, etc.
    • This desire has always been a part of Cait (to stand at the front of the room).
  • When Cait was in Poland, the first corporate event Cait did was a stress management event in 2009 for an audience of executives.
    • She spent the next several years in Europe teaching acupuncture skills to acupuncturists via teaching at acupuncture schools and weekend workshops. She was teaching orthopedic acupuncture, scalp acupuncture, and other things people in Europe don’t have access to (schools there less robust than in the US). She would often teach the courses in Polish or Czech and is fluent in Polish.
  • When doing speaking, Kate gets anxious but excited (or anxcited as she calls it) and tries to combine the energies for each.
    • No matter how good you are and how well you show up, there will always be somoene in the audience who hates you (part of the life of a speaker).
    • Cait has learned to tune more into her own authenticity and integrity to show up and be the person she wants to be on stage rather than shifting to please those who are going to hate her / might say something bad about her. She spent many years with the opposite problem.
    • Cait shares some feedback from a recent speaking engagement at which she was 1 of 9 other speakers. She was rated the highest out of the 9 by about 12%. Despite this and getting feedback from 75% of attendees about the usefulness of her content, 2% of the audience said attending Cait’s session was a total waste of time. Cait tells us it’s always going to be like that.
    • Cait is not afraid to say she doesn’t know if she doesn’t know something. Cait also aims to speak to audiences that she feels a resonance with.
      • Listen to Cait’s example of a fellow speaker who went in to speak on joy but had the wrong audience.
      • As a speaker you have to understand and choose the right audiences or risk being less successful. You need market fit.

14:42 – Charging for Services

  • Nick suspects doing something for free for a long time and then deciding to charge money for it later is challenging.
    • Cait doesn’t like to admit it, but this is torture.
    • The prices she charges now are absolutely not reachable by people she grew up with.
    • When Cait charges less than what she feels she should, she feels resentful. Part of market fit is choosing the people she will serve carefully so that the time invested is worth the return and benefit.
    • One of the things that helps Cait have higher prices is the social justice element built into her business – FRIED. This is a weekly podcast that is 100% free that takes up a lot of time and money.
    • After doing the math, Cait figured out producing the podcasts costs her anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000 pear year in time and money. To Cait, this is something that must be paid for through speaking and coaching.
    • When Cait is coaching, the money people pay is more about how much the coaching changes their life.
      • Dealing with burnout now could save you hundreds and thousands in healthcare down the line.
      • The money Cait charges is minimal compared to what you save getting this in order now. You can also get back to work faster as a result and start earning money again. If you were going to have to take 2 years off work to deal with burnout but working with Cait could get you back to work in 7 months, that’s 13 months of savings compared to doing this on your own.
    • Cait feels the transformative aspect of what she is offering is well justified. And if you are somoene who is fortunate enough to pay it, you should want to contribute to the fact that she does these other things we’ve discussed.
      • There are people who cannot afford to hire Cait, but they can leverage the podcast and the Facebook group.
      • For context, Cait answers questions in the Facebook group the same way she would answer a client (no holding back).
      • In addition to the podcast and Facebook group, Cait offers office hours 4 times per month. You can ask Cait whatever you like, and she would answer your question the same way she would answer a client.
    • Cait does all these things so people with no access to resources can still access help. People who invest in working with Cait for coaching or speaking are helping to further her mission and purpose (i.e. helping people who do not have the resources have access to as much of them as possible).
    • Building these things into her business helped her balance the fee she was charging

19:05 – Advice for the Content Builder

  • When Cait first started the podcast, she did it on her own. She had an expensive microphone and did not realize it needed to be well suited to a room.
    • With her foot in a cast after achilles surgery, Cait was living with her parents. She couldn’t get out to walk the dog twice per day because she could not walk. And her husband worked in an office all day.
    • Cait would sit in her mother’s living room with her mic plugged into a Mac. Reflecting on it, Cait says the sound is terrible for the first season and shares a recent review from a listener about the early audio quality. Cait tried her best and says the quality is way better starting about halfway through season 2.
    • Cait learned how to edit by herself, was doing show notes by herself, and doing all of it alone (guest recruitment too).
    • June 2023 will mark the 4th anniversary of Cait’s podcast starting. It was April 2021 when she started paying someone to do it, saving her 6-8 hours per week at least between editing, show notes, social media (a full working day to get the things finished).
    • Cait was also pursuing another degree at the time. She knew she could not run a business, pursue a degree, and run the podcast all concurrently.
  • What about the creator who wants to turn something they are creating into a business?
    • Keep it simple. You don’t have to do all the things at the beginning.
      • As soon as Cait realized the sound wasn’t great, she made changes. Cait recorded the next year or so of podcast episodes with standard Apple ear buds. And it still sounded ok.
      • You might need to lower your expectations a little bit.
      • Be careful on deciding how often you plan to publish. Releasing a show once per week may seem like not so much because you have an entire week to do it. In reality, you don’t have that full week. Nick can confirm you cannot do it last minute.
    • You don’t have to do anything like anyone else is doing it.
      • If you want to give people a 3-minute tip every morning, record it and post it. Don’t use intros and outros and keep it simple.
      • "Just get it out there…because you’re not going to find out if you love it and if it really fuels you until you’re really doing it." – Cait Donovan on shipping your work.
      • If you produce something that is terrible but you love it, you can shut it down and start fresh.
    • You don’t have to really dig in from the outset. That can come later.
      • Cait says there are a lot of people selling expensive microphones on Facebook Marketplace because they recorded a few episodes and stopped.
      • Nick cites his and John’s plan to invest in higher quality gear if they made it to 100 episodes. They started with $80 microphones.
      • Cait uses a podcast mic now that is popular in the podcasting space but that came with the boom arm and headphones…all for about $130 on And it sounds great!
      • Cait had an extra closet in her house that she built into a podcasting studio. She ordered felt pads from Amazon and taped them to the wall. It works. We’re not talking about someone coming to build a new room onto her house or a broadcasting booth.
    • Keep it simple by not making it any more difficult than it needs to be.
    • Don’t expect to hit 1000 downloads quickly unless you are really popular.
    • Don’t expect your friends and family to listen to your show. They don’t care and already listen to you talk enough. They have heard you talk about the show and probably know some of the things you are going to say.
      • Nick says his wife has listened to a couple of episodes and probably knows what he’ll say.
      • Cait says he husband has never listened to her show.

24:56 – A Business Owner’s Safety

  • Cait has only ever worked for herself and cannot speak to working for an employer vs. working for yourself.
  • If you dislike inconsistent income, entrepreneurship is not for you. If you need a check to come in consistently, this is not for you. It goes back to the discussion on safety (in this case financial safety).
    • Financial safety for Cait means she has the ability at any given moment to earn as much as she needs.
    • If she needs extra money, she can create a new course, advertise more, and several other possibilities.
    • Cait’s husband can do anything (feeling there is no wiggle room here). Cait likes the control of owning a business, but that is her version of safety.
  • Build the business the way you want it to run in the future.
    • For example, if you only want to work for 20 hours per week so you can do other things, build the business only working 20 hour weeks.
    • If you don’t do this, it is extremely easy for an entrepreneur to fill days with other things and can lead to 40, 50, and 60 hour weeks.
    • You may think to yourself that you will cut things back once you get the business going. Don’t lie to yourself. No, you won’t.
    • Parkinson’s Law essentially states a task takes as long as you have to do it. This is absolutely true.
    • "You can post to social media in 5 minutes or 3 hours. Trust me…I’ve done both." – Cait Donovan
    • Cait does not take coaching calls on Mondays or Fridays. Taking a call on one of those days is to connect with someone or to network (something she wants to do that is extraneous). You cannot book a coaching call with Cait on Monday or Friday. She’s made her availability and its boundaries very clear. And if she wants to take a trip out of town for a long weekend to be with her husband who often travels, she can do that and not have to cancel a full day of her schedule.
    • "I can only do that because I work for myself…and because I trust that during the other 3 days a week, I can earn the kind of money I want to earn." – Cait Donovan
    • The blocking of Monday and Friday enables Cait to have more energy during the other 3 days of her week. If there’s anything she specifically wants to do and needs to take care of on a Monday or a Friday, she is not interrupted by calls.
      • Cait really likes focus music on YouTube. She will put it on for 3 hours and sets a timer for 45 minutes at a time. Cait will work straight for 45 minutes and will then get up and leave her office.
      • "I just have to get up, leave the space, and then I come back and do it again." – Cait Donovan
      • When it comes to setting herself with how she wants to work for engaging with work when she feels like it, Cait owns all the decisions.
      • Once Cait starts to feel resentful that the calendar is too full, she will sit back and take stock of how she is spending time. Every once in a while Cait has to not take networking calls for a month since her natural tendency is to want to help people (and can lead to overextension). You cannot notice these things unless you’re mindful that they are happening. You need to know your baseline as well.
      • "You offered your time. They are using it. But if you’re mad about it, change the rules." – Cait Donovan on avoiding victim mentality when your calendar gets too busy

31:09 – Breathing Room for the Business

  • Though Cait has people working for her, she still has trouble releasing control of certain things.
    • Cait’s understanding from talking to other people that a CEO does much more delegation and management.
    • Cait considers herself in the trenches and not CEO style just yet. She’s not sure if that is a place she might want to be in the future.
    • "Right now, I want to be in the trenches. I want to be on the stages. I want to be with my 1-1 clients. I desire those moments. And I don’t think CEO mind is that. But, I could be wrong…because I don’t know." – Cait Donovan
  • Cait has owned her own businesses since 2007, and before this she was a bartender (which is really working on tips alone and like working for yourself).
  • Cait says she’s learned that planning too much in advance and deciding how she wants things to be sometimes blocks the business from growing in a way that is surprising and even more fulfilling.
    • "If I give the business a little bit of breathing room and watch what unfolds, I can sometimes follow that and lean into the things that are working so that things are easier rather than trying to build something and pull everything along behind me." – Cait Donovan
    • Cait tells us she can be the caboose of the business instead of the engine in front. She can pull the brakes from there if needed.
      • Cait didn’t know what FRIED is going to do when it began.
      • Recently people have reached out to Cait about helping to start a podcast for their business to showcase employee stories and build up culture. It’s not come to fruition yet, but previous to hearing about it she didn’t even know that was a possibility (and certainly was not in the business plan).
      • "If I would have created these really strict rules about where I’m going, I might have missed the beautiful right turn that could be happening. I don’t want to miss the beautiful right turns. I don’t know what’s best all the time." – Cait Donovan on allowing a business to be flexible as it grows

34:08 – Board of Advisors

  • Cait currently serves on the board of directors of the New York City National Speaker’s Association.
    • The most difficult thing for Cait as part of this and also the most valuable to her is learning how to better work with a team (learning teamwork).
    • Cait is very good at doing things by herself, and it can be difficult for her to wait for people to come to a consensus.
    • There are beautiful things about boards of directors that she did not previously realize. When the board comes together, it can be an environment where ideas flourish (i.e. someone pitches an idea and then people add to it to the point the idea is something the group should further investigate).
    • Similarly the group can often help people see an idea may not be as great as someone may think (i.e. good in theory but perhaps not in practice). Proposing something to the group in this way can also allow someone to release a hold on an idea they may think is great.
      • "You don’t need to have it take up any more space in your brain or your body…because you’ve had people check it out with you, and there are too many holes in it." – Cait Donovan
      • Cait says it is a powerful thing to be able to let go of ideas that aren’t going to work and gives an example about a business plan that her friend worked on for a year but in the end found was not feasible.
    • There’s something to be said about having a board or a set of trusted advisors who can poke holes in your ideas to ensure your eventual success. It can save you so much time, money, and headache on things which might not be viable.
    • In the case of something not being viable, maybe the board can help you figure out what would make it viable. And if that goes against your values you could sell the idea.
    • "Sometimes it is good to have people around who that can both build up your ideas and make them better and break down your ideas so you can let them go."- Cait Donovan
    • Being on a board also provides a sense of belonging.
  • Qualifications to serve on a board are usually a willingness to serve on one (usually unpaid) and a network (you need to know the people who are going to ask you).

37:46 – The Breakout Speaker and the Keynote Speaker

  • When asked about gaps in the breakout speaker at a conference and the keynote speaker, Cait mentions The Referable Speaker: Your Guide to Building a Sustainable Speaking Career by Michael Port and Andrew Davis.
    • In the book they speak to people being in expertville and others in visionary town.
    • Expertville is breakout sessions. The focus is knowledge and sharing it.
    • Visionary town is keynotes. It is changing people’s hearts and getting them to think a different way. These are usually more inspirational. They can still teach people something, but the focus isn’t specifically more knowledge but more wisdom.
    • Cait says neither of these is better than the other. She likes living in visionary town because it suits her heart. But we need people who are living in expertville, people who are teaching concrete tools to get through specific problems.
  • Cait says the distinction between the two types of speakers above is important. When you’re getting on stage to keynote, you have to bring all your good energy with you. You have to boost yourself so you are giving people everything you have.
    • "You don’t have to do that in a breakout room. In a breakout room you just have to go and tell people what you know." – Cait Donovan
    • Nick says maybe as a breakout speaker you get to the point where you start to bring in more energy.
    • Cait says you can be a breakout speaker and have a great career and make good money. Not everyone is designed to be a keynote speaker, and that is ok.
    • "I don’t think the impact is different in those rooms [breakout rooms]. It’s just different." – Cait Donovan
  • The best place to get in touch with Cait is on the site for FRIED: The Burnout Podcast

Contact us if you need help on the journey, and be sure to check out the Nerd Journey Podcast Knowledge Graph.

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