Having just released my 50th podcast, I’m experiencing a mix of pride, mild disappointment and a dash of hope. It’s a terrific accomplishment, but like a lot of training initiatives, I can’t really pin down an actual return on investment. I know there are a whole slew of intangible outcomes and benefits, but if this where a business, that wouldn’t fly. When I started TBF nearly three years ago I had a bunch of stuff written on paper mostly wild ideas and hopes. Not dissimilar like plans you make to start a business together when drinking with a buddy.
This year I decided to treat TBF like an experiment where I was an unknowing participant. My approach for the rest of 2015 will be some (more) trial and error, but I plan on changing the format and tinkering with different promotional efforts. The rest of this post will sound like my glass is half empty. This is not the case but these are the areas I want to improve my product and the listeners experience or a valuable lesson I’ve learned. Maybe not the hard way, but at the very least it was the scenic route.
Have specific goals. I didn’t have goals because I didn’t understand the problem well enough, really just taking a shot at a problem that I wasn’t sure existed. I hadn’t yet started my L&D career but I know that’s where I was headed. I didn’t know the industry well enough and I didn’t have an established fan-base. I’ve learned that both of these things are important when trying to get off the ground.
Have reasonable expectations. My expectations were out of line with reality (I understand this is a millennial thing). Like being a kid who makes a tree fort expecting the neighbourhood kids to flock and hang out, I was hanging out in my fort alone. I didn’t hang much of a sign up and I didn’t consistently invest in the community. Without being an industry author, or a minor celebrity, I didn’t have a primed audience. It’s difficult to form an expectation without know the industry, that’s why I shouldn’t have had any expectations. I did my best to do that, but you still hope, hope!, that things happen on their own. I should have set low expectations based on the fact that I limited exposure and experience.
If you don’t have an audience, find one or build one. I like to post to Facebook but my friends and family have limited context to my content. If you look closely at the different podcast networks out there you see they all have a one or two that is about the flavour of the week; Walking Dead, Hunger Games, Scandal, etc. It’s good business, but it seems whore-ish. A tried and true method. Another is to get your name out there as an authority by taking more action in your various communities. This is the approach I hope to take this year. Get involved in LinkedIn groups and more Twitter chats.
If you intend to have people share your message, you need to give them a valuable message to share. There are a few categories that make sense: news, valuable/educated insights, exclusive content, comedy and relatability to name a few. This is harder than it sounds being new to the industry. In the beginning I was trying to make the podcast something it wasn’t. I wanted it to be something anyone in L&D could listen too, but it wasn’t the kind of content that I knew how to produce. I was preaching to the choir while sitting on the front steps. Useless. At best my content was set for an amateur trainer audience. I’m always trying to sharpen the edge and get a deeper knowledge set. Now that I’ve been practicing for while and self educating, I’m getting past this hurdle but there are no short cuts here.
Everything looks better polished, even turds. Listening to my earlier episodes is painful. Seriously, they sound rough. Dave Jackson from the School of Podcasting once said, record your first couple episodes and then bury them and never release them. He’s right, and wrong. I like the saying ‘done is better than perfect.’ It’s like there being an ideal time to have kids, doesn’t exist. Before I started TBF I did a test run of seven different episodes for a class I was taking for my Adult Ed certificate. This got some of the kinks out of the process and helped find my voice a bit. There are always more kinks though, unless you’ve got a highly experienced production staff like the NPR people. It frustrates the hell out of me that NPR has become synonymous with ‘podcast.’ They’re taking a program that’s sponsored and produced for radio and slapping it on the internet. I wouldn’t consider this to be in the spirit of podcasting. To hell with ’em. My own efforts at a more produced product include consistent and moderately attractive cover art and I’ve also created some more stylized intros for the show. This was both challenging and exciting to do. I got to pull audio from public domain science fiction films and slice it together over music. Come on, who doesn’t love that stuff!
Make more widgets at the same time. I used to set all my stuff up, record a podcast, take all my stuff down, edit, and post. Lather, rinse, repeat. I’ve reduced my editing time by making the tone more conversational, not an easy feat for a one man operation but I’ve recently started recording more than one podcast at a time. This lets me get take advantage of economies of scale. There’s a brand new idea for you…
Training by Fire will be here for a while. It may go through some transformations but they will all lead to a better product down the road. That’s all we can do.