Today in episode 106, I’m trying something really different. If you’re hanging out with me on social media or over email or in my membership, you’re hearing a lot about the benefits and possibilities of student podcasting projects right now. Students can create shows on any topic they’re interested in, developing skills like research, writing, editing, speaking, and interviewing. They can record so easily for free on Vocaroo, and design beautiful podcast covers for free on Canva. All month I’ll be sharing about this, and I hope it’s going to inspire you to try podcasting with your students!
This show, then, in a bit of a curveball move, is a chance to bring me into your classroom as a guest speaker.
When students create podcasts, they are doing what Sarah Fine and Jal Mehta, in their book In Search of Deeper Learning, call “Playing the whole game at the junior level.” That is, they’re creating a product, perhaps not quite with the depth they would later on, and with a bit of extra help, but a product that is a real-world product. They can follow the steps podcasters with top-rated podcasts actually follow, and produce work that COULD go out into the world through Apple Podcasts, Anchor.fm or Spotify. And I think an important part of trying out that real world work, is to hear from someone in the field who is doing it. So here’s what we’re doing today. I’ve received dozens of questions from students about what it’s like to be a podcaster, and in this show, I’m going to answer them. I hope you’ll soon share this episode with your students in the midst of a podcasting project of your own.
The intro explains the show, and then after the opening trailer, the final thirty or so minutes are the “guest speaker” part of the show, which you could play for your students. If you’re sending them a link, they can start listening at the 2:40 mark.
You can play this episode from the player below, or on any podcast platform, such as Apple Podcasts, Blubrry, Spotify, Sticher or Google Air Play.
Introduction: Hello there! First of all, thank you so much for inviting me into your ears as a guest speaker. My name is Betsy, and I’ve been podcasting for four years as part of my job. At this point, my podcast has been downloaded 242,000 times and ranks in the top fifty in its category on Apple Podcasts. So it’s not tiny, and it’s not huge, and I love doing it. I’ve pulled nineteen of the questions I’ve gotten from students in the last month, that seemed the most representative of the hundred or so questions that were submitted. If you sent in a question, thank you!
Making a Podcast
How and why did you first get started?
It seems like these days everyone is just so BUSY. It’s hard to fit in the things we want to do, the things we want to learn. Just before I started my podcast, I was taking a class online but I had no time for it. I was so relieved when I realized the whole class was available as audio files I could listen to while I was exercising, grocery shopping, or driving to places. I was able to finish the class quite quickly, and that’s when I realized the power of audio for fitting into people’s busy lives. So I hopped onto Youtube and searched for help in starting a podcast. I found a video series to walk me through setting up my audio templates in Garageband on my Mac, designing my podcast cover, and hosting my podcast through a company called Libsyn. I recorded my first three episodes to submit to Apple, got accepted, and I’ve been podcasting ever since. I could easily have gotten worried about all the technology, or waited until I had time to take another class – this time in podcasting. But I’ve found with most things online, there’s a Youtube tutorial made by someone else who has it figured out. And if you’re patient, and willing to follow the steps, you can do it too.
What equipment do you need?
Not much! Lots of podcasters record in their closets for good sound quality. It helps get rid of echoes and background noise. I have a microphone called the Blue Yeti that I bought eight years ago, and I use a pop filter that cost about $15 to help smooth out any loud consonant sounds that might sound funny on the recording. I use headphones on the Skype calls that I make to interview people, and I use the GarageBand software that came with my Mac to edit my episodes.
How do you get ideas?
When you podcast about something that you love, something that you’re already thinking about all the time, it’s surprisingly easy to get ideas. In four years, I’ve never really felt stumped for an idea. Like many podcasts, mine is part of my business, so I often get ideas from the people I’m trying to help. When they have a problem or I can tell they’re interested in some new topic, then I put that on my list as a future podcast episode. I also get lots of ideas from social media. When I see other people who work in my space sharing something really interesting, then I invite them to come on my podcast as a guest.
What is the process of writing, recording, producing and releasing a podcast?
It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing. Most processes in running a business seem hard at first, but then they get easy if you do them the same way over time. When I’m recording a solo show, I usually start by writing a blog post about the topic. Then I use a template script that I’ve made to write an introduction for the beginning and an outro for the end, and record those parts and talk about the blog post inside my episode template in Garageband. Because I’ve practiced a lot now, I can usually record without needing to redo much, though sometimes my kids come into my office or someone knocks on the door, and I have to start a part over. Editing is pretty easy as long as I did the main show in one take. Then I put the sound file up onto a website called Libsyn, that I use to host my show and send it out to all the big podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Blubrry. The last step is for me to create graphics for Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, and share it on my feeds there so people will come to listen. All together, it probably takes me about three hours to put together a solo show. An interview show is a bit more complicated, because I need to research the work of the guest and record a call with them before the editing and releasing. But I have a system for that too, and I’m pretty used to it now. I used to get really nervous before calling famous guests, but over time it has gotten much easier.
Do you have a script or a bulleted list of topics?
If I’ve already written a blog post on my topic, it’s kind of like a script. But I try not to read it out loud, because it’s hard to make the show fun to listen to if you read the whole thing out loud. It’s possible! But hard. So I tend to try to make it more conversational, covering what I’ve written on the blog but just explaining it like I was sitting in a coffee shop with a listener and telling them the ideas.
Is it hard not to mess up your words?
It was at first! I had to do a lot more re-recording in my first few episodes, and when I would listen back, I would notice little things that I did when I was nervous that I didn’t want in the show. But over time, it got much easier. Now I usually feel pretty relaxed, and I know I can always start a part over if I make a mistake.
Does it ever get boring?
Not really. I truly love learning about my topic and sharing about it with others. I feel super lucky to be in a career that is my dream job, and to work for myself. Sure, there are times when I’d rather watch Netflix or go to bed than record an interview at 9 pm once my kids are in bed, but once I get on the call it’s fun to learn from my guest and I get excited to share the ideas with my audience. Probably my least favorite part of podcasting is writing the show notes for interview episodes, because I have to go back and listen several times to each section to be able to write a good explanation of what we talked about. But the thing is, I think in any career, no matter how much you love it, there will be a few things that just have to get done every week. You can’t love every single second of your work, but if you love a lot of it, I think you’re doing really well.
Where do you get information from?
A lot of my show information comes from my personal experience combined with my imagination. But I also read guest’s books and blog posts, and do research across the internet. Sometimes if I’m trying to teach my audience something I don’t know that much about, I need to learn how to do whatever it is from Youtube tutorials and blog posts or books, and then share about my personal experience. Different podcasts provide such different types of information – they can be super research heavy, or all storytelling and personal experience. For me, it’s a combination of all of those things.
Does it get weird to hear your voice a lot?
I don’t really listen to my show! I have a couple of times, just to hear what it sounds like to listeners so I can try to improve my sound quality and manner of speaking, but mostly I don’t really want to spend my time listening because I already know what I said!
Do you interview people? What is that like? How do you pick questions for guests?
I have interviewed a lot of people I really admire, and it’s thrilling to get on a call with someone whose book you’ve read. One of my favorite things about being a podcaster is how it has opened doors for me to get to know wonderful people who care about the same things as me. I’ve invited perhaps thirty people to come on my show, and only two have said no. I do my interviews over Skype, because it’s easy to record the calls there and then split the voices onto two separate tracks on Garageband using a program called Skype Call Recorder (another thing I learned about through a Youtube search!). I prepare my questions by reading the work of my guest and then thinking about what my listeners would be most interested in from that work.
How do you market effectively to podcast listeners and to new listeners?
That’s such a good question! I’m still figuring it out, and I probably always will be. Because I have my own business, connected to my podcast, I share my episodes across all the social media channels I’ve built over the years and I share about it with the people on my email list. So each time I release an episode, I send the link out to about 38,000 people over email, and invite them to listen. I don’t really try to market my podcast to other people very much, but I keep trying to build up these different platforms where I share about it, so that I can reach more people to share ideas with them. One common way podcasters try to reach new listeners is to go on other people’s podcasts as guests. I’ve done this a little bit, but will probably try to do it more in the future. I started as a podcaster when my children were very young, so I haven’t really had a lot of extra time for marketing yet. Once my youngest is in school, it will be easier for me to spend more time on work.
How it works as a Career
What made you choose this career?
I love love love what I do. I love writing and podcasting, designing imagery for social media, collaborating with other bloggers and podcasters, and helping the people in my audience. I also love the flexibility of having my own business, and being able to work on my own schedule while my children are young. As my own boss, I get to decide what ideas to pursue and how to pursue them.
As your podcast gains followers and you’re able to get more money from advertising, at what point would you consider making podcasting your full time job?
I think for many people podcasting is part of a package. It would be tough to get paid so much in advertising that you didn’t have to do anything else, unless you had an incredibly popular daily show. Personally, I’ve never tried much to get advertisers for my show. What I really want is to reach people and help them, and then if they want the kinds of things I sell later on, they know where to find me. Let me give you an example – Rick Steves has a popular podcast and public television show about traveling in Europe. He’s not making a lot of money from those shows, but the millions of people who have heard his podcast or watched his advertising-free television shows are people who might consider picking up one of his guidebooks or taking one of his company’s guided tours in Europe. So he makes money from his podcast indirectly, because it helps him to build his audience and reach people with his ideas.
What if nobody likes your podcast?
It’s a good idea, when you’re starting out, to figure out who you are trying to reach with your show. Whether that’s video gamers, amateur chefs, teen readers, middle-aged travelers, or competitive soccer players, you want to have a really clear idea of your audience. Many businesses think about something called the “ideal customer avatar.” This is an example of the kind of person you are trying to reach, and you try to figure out what this person likes and wants. So if you’re creating a show for soccer players, and you want them to love it, you need to start by figuring out what they’re interested in, what problems they have that you could help solve, and what questions are on their minds. Do they want to know how to get college scholarships? Do they want to know which morning workouts are the best ones? Do they want to know what makes coaches pick certain kids as captains? Do they want to know how to get the stinky smell out of their shoes now and then? Once you know who you’re trying to reach and what they want to know, you’ll be much more likely to create a show that people will like.
Do you prefer working in a group setting or on your own?
I really like having my own business and making the decisions myself. I collaborate with other bloggers and podcasters, and I’m in a small mastermind group with other people who have similar businesses. We share ideas and work through questions that come up for us with a business coach. It’s nice not to be completely on my own all the time, but still, I really like doing my own thing for the most part, and being able to work from anywhere.
Do you get paid for it or is it just for fun?
It took me several years to build my own business up to the point where it was paying me a good salary. At first it was something I did because I loved it and I hoped that if I worked hard enough on it, it could become my full time job. And now it has. But it really is fun for me too. The podcasting part, specifically, doesn’t really pay at all. But it’s an important part of my work. When you have your own business, it’s nice to think about two different related parts – reaching and impacting people, and making money. You need to make money to be able to keep reaching and impacting people, right? Otherwise you’ll have to quit and get a different job. So it’s important to me that I have good paid products and that I can take care of my family. But it’s also really important to me to help people by doing what I love and to make a difference in the world. Podcasting helps me help other people, and many of those people eventually decide they want to work with me in some paid capacity as well. And if they don’t, that’s totally fine too.
What type of work schedule do you have?
For the last couple of years, I worked when my daughter was in preschool or my kids were watching T.V. for awhile, and at night. These days, with my son in cyberschool and my daughter doing homeschool preschool, it’s a bit more complicated. I work whenever I can, and I catch up at night after my kids go to bed. Eventually, I hope to have a slightly more regular schedule, but still be able to be flexible when my kids are sick or something comes up. That’s one of the nice things about working for yourself.
How do you grow your followers?
Gradually! Social media plays a big part, and so does having a blog. The biggest thing right now for most online businesses is to build up an email list. When you give people the chance to sign up to get ideas from you over email, then you can send them links to new episodes as they come out. For the last four years, I have emailed the wonderful people on my list every Friday to say hello, share ideas and resources, and give them links to new podcast episodes and blog posts. At first I was emailing a few hundred people. Then a few thousand. Now that list has grown to almost 40,000. It’s a little crazy to hit send on an email to that many people; I’m truly honored to be able to help them with their work.
Is being a podcaster a stable job that makes a living wage?
For many people who build an online business, they start by doing it while making a more steady income at something else. I was able to build mine during a time when my family wasn’t expecting an income from me, because I was staying home to raise our young children. I knew that once my kids were older, I would return to my job, so my goal was to build my business to pay me that same amount from my old job or more before it was time for me to go back, so I wouldn’t need to. I worked hard on it, and was able to accomplish that goal. For me, the combination of my podcast with my online products feels pretty stable, and I really enjoy being an entrepreneur. It helps that my partner has a more traditional job, so I didn’t need to figure out things like health insurance, just income.