How I Started My Independent Podcast
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I recently received a “side hustle” style career conundrum from Rachel from Minneapolis on the Bossed Up podcast hotline, who wants to know how to start her own podcast. So today’s post is all about my journey to launching and growing the Bossed Up podcast as an independent show over the last year – and everything I’ve learned along the way.
Know Your Goals
Podcasting has been called “the new blogging,” for how it’s become an efficient way to communicate regularly with people who share your areas of interest. And while I love podcasting, keep in mind: only about 36% of the US population has ever listened to a podcast, so it might not be the right channel for everyone. The way I look at podcasting, is that it compliments the writing I do on the Bossed Up blog, the news I send out via our email list, and the community we’ve created on social media.
However you approach podcasting, make sure you’re clear about your goals and enjoy the process. It’s not easy to make any money at all through podcasting (although I’ll share some best practices for doing so at the end of today’s post), so I encourage you to get crystal clear about your goals before venturing into this process.
For me, I got lucky. I was recruited into the podcasting world when Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin stepped down from their post at the HowStuffWorks network, where they created and co-hosted Stuff Mom Never Told You. After 8 years, Cristen and Caroline left to start their own independent show, Unladylike. At the time, I was able to negotiate a great deal for myself, recommend my best possible collaborator (Bridget Todd), and had the pleasure of co-hosting Stuff Mom Never Told You for the 9 months we had together. But when management changed at the network and our deal fell apart, I wasn’t willing to work for just over a third of what they’d initially been paying us, so I left.
I knew, however, that just because I was leaving Stuff Mom Never Told You didn’t mean I wanted to leave the world of podcasting altogether. Over those 9 months I’d grown to love the creative challenge and the conversations we were able to start with listeners – including many of you! I didn’t want to work with a network that treated its workers incredibly poorly, so I set out on the intimidating undertaking of launching my own independent production instead.
Establish Your Concept
Think about it: what could you talk about…a LOT? Obviously you’re going to want to have a focus to your show, but not too narrow a subject matter that you’ll run out of things to say.
Would you want a co-host? Or not? Co-hosts can make a show wonderfully dynamic, but also requires a lot more back-end planning, communication, and logistics.
Would you want to produce podcast series – like a limited release of 5-10 episodes all at once? Or a more ongoing, weekly format? Many creators find the series format to be more freeing, in that they’re able to build in breaks and not get overwhelmed with deadlines, but after 9 months of producing 2 episodes a week with Stuff Mom Never Told You, I was confident in my abilities to opt for the weekly format instead.
Establishing your concept is a fun and creative endeavor, but don’t forget to consider production complexities. For instance, I love ending each Tuesday episode of the Bossed Up podcast by featuring a listener-submitted boss move! It’s an inspiring and uplifting way to showcase our community. But, if I’m being honest with you, it’s made our production process kind of challenging, because we constantly have to persuade our listeners to call in and brag on themselves – which is not the easiest thing to do. In fact, there was one episode in which we didn’t have boss moves to share! So when coming up with fun, creative concepts like this one, keep in mind how much effort it might take to actually make it happen.
Another reason I love featuring listener-submitted boss moves and career conundrums is because it’s important to think about how your show will incorporate vocal diversity. Listening to one person’s soliloquy can get, well, boring. So when I set out to start this podcast without a co-host, I knew it was going to be important to feature interviews and listener voicemails to add to the vocal diversity in each episode.
Finally, when thinking about how you’ll set up each episode, my friend Gretta Cohn, who is the Founder of Transmitter Media, gave me this advice when I just starting out: think in segments. What’s your first segment of each episode going to sound like? What’s your middle segment? What are recurring segments you can bring in every now and then to surprise your listeners? What will your closing segment always involve? Listeners like recognizable patterns, so consider segments your building blocks for creating each episode.
Equipment & Software
When it comes to equipment, there’s a wide spectrum of audio devices you can use, but you really don’t need pro-level stuff to produce a great-sounding podcast. Don’t get me wrong, audio quality matters, but it doesn’t take a pricey mic to make it a reality. I know Myleik Teele of the MyTaughtYou podcast uses a simple handheld mic with a USB output that plugs right into her computer. Here’s a link to some great mic options from The Podcast Host at all different price ranges for you to consider.
A few more optional pieces of equipment that can take your microphone game to the next level include snagging a mic stand and/or boom arm, which help hold the microphone for you, and a pop filter which is a little screen that softens some of the harsher, fricative sounds in human speech.
You’ll also need software to capture your audio as you record it. I like to use Zencastr, an online service that costs me about $20 a month, and can record my audio and my interview guests’ audio on two separate tracks, which is important for editing purposes. You can also edit your files straight in the Zencastr platform, but I pay an audio editor who uses more sophisticated Adobe software instead.
There are lots of options for capturing your audio files. You can use Audacity or GarageBand, which cost nothing. You can use Zoom or Skype as well. Whichever software you opt for, remember it always takes a little fiddling and experimentation to figure it out at first. You can often google you way to tutorials online specific to whichever audio platform you use.
Personally, I especially appreciate the fact that by paying for Zencastr, that $20 a month also includes customer service and troubleshooting, which has saved me a bunch of time when I’ve run into technical challenges.
Editing Your Audio
Once you capture your audio files, you’ve got put all your segments together in one final .mp3 or .wav file that’s ready to be listened to. But here’s the thing: when I started podcasting on the HowStuffWorks network, they had in-house audio engineers who would do all that editing for me.
When I transitioned into hosting my own independent production, I knew that my time and talents were best spent focusing on content creation, not editing audio files. This can be extremely detail-oriented and time-consuming work, so I did a lot of research interviewing a bunch of different editors to work with as an investment in the show.
All that research led me to Josh at PodcastGuyMedia, who’s been an absolute delight to work with. If it’s at all possible for you to outsource your editing, I can’t recommend Josh enough. In fact, when we put this episode together, Josh kindly offered a discount to any of you who reach out to him via http://podcastguymedia.com/bossedup. He’s offering 25% off the first month of editing and/or 1 hr..
That said, I also know plenty of podcasters, including Kathlyn Hart of the Kathlyn Hart Show, who do their own editing. It’s definitely a skill you can learn, and I recommend these more in-depth tutorials from Pat Flynn at podcastingtutorial.com to learn more.
Publish Your Podcast
Now, once you’ve edited your final podcast file and you’re happy with how it all came together, you need a hosting service to publish your show.
I use Simplecast, a hosting platform that costs me $12 a month, to upload the raw audio file (in a .wav or .mp3 format), and then add metadata.
Metadata in behind-the-scenes information that’s associated with each espisode, including the title, any related tags or search terms, and both a one-line description and a more detailed description with show notes. By adding this metadata to the hosting platform, Simplecast then communicates all that information via an RSS feed to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, GooglePlay, Stitcher Radio, and all the other places where you get your podcasts.
I also like Simplecast, because it allows me to embed a little player widget into every Bossed Up blog post that features my podcast. That way, I can share a link to my blog on social media to encourage people to listen to the show, instead of linking directly to iTunes or any single podcast player.
Once you can prove that your podcast reaches a good deal of people (typically 2500 downloads per episode is the minimum), which you can measure using a hosting platform like Simplecast, advertisers might be interested in partnering with you.
There are 3 ways I’ve seen this done:
- You can sell ads yourself. This is something I do offer and have gotten a little bit of interest that way, but not much. I set flat rates for my ads, make sure the advertiser is peddling something I truly love and think you’d love too, and then my assistant Kirby and I write a script to show what I plan to say for their pre-approval.
- Work with an agency. These are third-party businesses that work more closely with bigger brands and companies and offer up advertising on a variety of podcasts. They typically earn a percentage of your ad revenue (around 30% is common) and send you advertisers on the regular. I recently started working with TrueNative Media in this capacity and appreciate how they manage the process with advertisers for me.
- You can pitch your show to a network. This is probably the hardest path forward, because you have to convince a major media network that your show should be one of their family of shows, via a proposal. This is also my least favorite / least recommended path because the podcast network landscape is currently very volatile and somewhat unpredictable. However, if you’re fortunate enough to get past all that, you can make some bigger bucks going this route, as networks take an active role in helping all their shows grow – especially through cross-promotion on other network shows – and they take a very hands-on role in managing advertisers and production for you.
Whichever route you pursue, know that you should always retain the right to not work with any advertiser you don’t like. I’ve turned down offers from Modcloth ever since they were bought out by Walmart, a company I have major ethical concerns about. I’ve passed on advertisers whose products are confusing or just don’t seem all that valuable to me, so I wouldn’t want to recommend. And I’ve passed on offers to peddle skinny tea and other products I find overtly harmful and contrary to my personal values.
I hope this longer-than-usual post has given you some helpful first steps to take when pursuing your own podcast, but for even more support, check out this awesome book, So You Want to Start A Podcast? – which I recently stumbled upon by Kristen Meinzer, one of the women behind the awesome By the Book podcast.
I also recommend attending the annual WERK IT Women’s Podcasting Festival, hosted by WNYC Studios, and tuning in to their podcast of the same name, which include live recordings of all the main stage presentations from the festival. You might even stumble upon my talk from a few years back, when I delivered a talk that goes into greater detail about how to make money through podcasting.
My last recommendation is to subscribe to Hot Pod, the best podcast industry newsletter out there, written by Nick Quah, with whom I share a book editor. My editor at Hachette, Colleen, who you heard on the Bossed Up podcast about how I got my book deal, is currently editing Nick’s forthcoming book all about the podcast industry. His newsletter is great for keeping up with all the mergers and acquisitions happening in the still-pubescent podcasting media industry.
What other podcast questions do you have?
I’d love to hear from you! What are you still left wondering after reading today’s post? How can I continue to support you in your creative endeavors? And how can I continue to use my podcasting platform to support your career growth?!
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