I have known I wanted a podcast for over a year. But I had no idea when and if it would come into fruition. Suddenly, during lockdown, I was hit by this idea of launching a podcast to feature women CEOs during the crisis. And then, timing was of essence. If I was to be on a mission to bring hope and light to people, then I had to get going with it. After my first moment of doubt, Hubby B and my HBS Circles fellows did not try to convince me of the opposite, and were rather very supportive. So I embarked on this journey. As I get ready to close Season 1 (with a solo episode!!), I am sharing my 5 lessons and a few tips.
Have a podcast strategy
When I started, I had a very clear vision. Knowing the amount of podcasts out there, I did not want to be just another drop in the ocean. I knew I wanted to interview women CEOS/ entrepreneurs, not just women leaders. Nothing against women in corporate (I myself am one), but I felt like I wanted to show how people had the ability to turn around businesses and make tough decisions. And that is what a CEO/ owner does – or so I think! Believe me, my network would have been likely easier in corporate, but I stuck to my belief.
At the same time, I quickly concluded as I started that it would be interesting to have perspectives from around the world, showing the commonalities and the diversity of reactions. In a time of Covid-19, the commonalities actually were prominent. In the first 5 episodes, all women talked about having to work on their patience at home. And whilst I may have struggled to find Adriana in Brazil and Arese in Nigeria to ensure I was not only “in the Western world”, finding them made it even more special. And the commonalities were still there. As well as the diversity.
Finally, I also knew that I wanted to have a focus on growth through this crisis, and split that into the business and personal. I wanted to lead with the business, as that is my key area of focus, but I wanted to make sure we could also get to know the full picture of the person’s life. As that is what may help give people perspective.
Have a podcast structure
As in everything, you would expect me to talk about structure. In fact you do need to think through your structure.
- Are you going to do the podcast as a monologue/ solo?
- Are you going to have a co-host and make it a chat between the 2 of you (a very common format)?
- Or are you going to be interviewing people?
Whatever format you chose, you need to find out what works best for you and for what you are trying to achieve. Once you are set on a format, you can then decide how you want to structure it – target time, intro and outro, call to action.
- In my case, the podcast starts with a snippet of the conversation. I always enjoy when podcasts do that, they pick my attention from the get-go. Some people hate it. You have to go with what you like to hear, and also what will pick the interest of your audience, if you know who they are.
- Then, after a starting jingle, I go into the intro of the podcast and season, which is fairly common across all episodes, and I then move to introduce my guest. I tend to do this before I get live with the guest as in the video version it shows only myself. (yes, youtube is coming too next week)
- I try and target less than 40 minutes of interview, so that it can be overall no more than 40 minutes. At first I was targeting 30 minutes, and after feedback that it should go for longer I stretched closer to 40. But be careful as in one of the last ones I got to 49 minutes after all the possible editing cuts!
- After the interview, I typically record an outro with some short on the spot reactions to the podcast. This last part I probably perfected more over the last episodes.
- Also, if you are trying to link to a website or business, don’t forget to include a call to action. I do a short one in the beginning and end – mostly so people share and review the podcast.
Be practical – MVP
You don’t have to have a perfect product.
Perfect is the enemy of the good.
Yes, you want to avoid putting out something clearly unfinished or sketchy. But you don’t have to do a fully blown podcasting course, buy all the gear and invest in months of research. Sometimes the way to get started is, to just get started. I had a concept and a computer, so I quickly went on to invite people to interview. Because I chose that as the format I was obviously depending on them accepting (leap of faith) but I got lucky and they did indeed! Filipa took the chance of being my first guest and to this day it is still the most heard podcast.
What I did do beforehand?
- First, I took a relatively short Linkedin Learning podcasting course which included anything from technical to marketing.
- I also read a bit about recording on zoom vs. Microsoft teams and tested different videos snippets (Microsoft Teams has the best image, Zoom is what people are familiar with).
- I investigated a bit the benefits of hosting on Libsyn, WordPress or others (more below). I went with the recommendation from the course I took as I felt it was the right price point to be low risk.
- In the meantime, I wrote myself an intro letter and started sending out emails to my first chosen women! If someone accepted, there was no turning back!
Outsource if you can
I knew I could not launch this podcast if I was going to learn all the technicalities. I wanted to focus on what I could control and easily put into action – the theme, the interviews, the articles that go alongside it. Everything else, I decided I was going to pay for it. As it was an experiment, I considered it an early birthday present to myself or rather the cost of the dinners out that I was no longer having in Covid-19 times.
- Artwork: one of the first things I did was to go to People Per Hour and post a job for a podcast art. Podcast art comes with technical specifications, especially if you want it featured on Apple Podcasts. But for 20£ you can get an (MVP) artwork done. I had a few options given to me by the designer, shopped for opinions with a few friends and just went with it. I am no designer, so this was not something I was willing to spend time on.
- Host: you need to host the podcast somewhere. Libsyn is often the most recommended website and I stick to that recommendation. I started with the basic plan but I liked some of the paid features. That also allowed me to launch 2x a month without space limitations. If you are doing a monthly podcast, it is likely that the more basic version will do. The benefits are that once you launch the first episode in all of the known platforms, Libsyn does it for you afterwards. Which believe me, it is worth it. It takes 15 minutes to put each podcast online these days.
- Editing: I absolutely recommend outsourcing the editing, at least in the first season or first episodes. You want to be focusing on generating the content and not spending hours fiddling with something you may not be an expert in. Again, through People Per Hour, I put an ad for editing with the concept of the podcast. I actually read through all the profiles deeply and, when I found Alice, I knew she was the person I wanted to work with. We ended up doing both audio and video editing and Alice also found me the intro and outro songs, which add immensely to it.
- Social Media: Here it is really your decision. Because I am doing this for fun, I do my own promotion and try to schedule as much as I can, or leave it pre-written in a way that I just have to post in the launch days. A very helpful thing, especially if you are doing video, is to have a few video snippets that you can share on social media along different days to help you get the word out. So whilst I do it myself, If you are doing it as part of your business, it may just make sense to align it with whoever does your social media.
Establish a podcast process
I did not do all of the below from the get-go, but when I did, things definitely got better and easier to set up. This is the longest part of this article, so if you are not yet taking notes, go to the last lesson – have fun!
Invite Letters – have a standard standard invite that you can easy personalize to your invitees AND your network. I only did the second one half way through when rather than inviting myself, I was asking people to connect me. By the way, that same invite is probably what you will soon convert into your podcast opening statement, so make sure you test and tweak as much as you can.
Research – Do research before sending those letters out. It does not have to be super deep but don’t just shoot out invite letters without getting a good feeling on whether the person is a fit for your podcast. And tell them why they would be unique to be your guest.
Interview Prep Call – once you have found your guest, I would advise a 15-20 minute interview prep call. I did not do that for all podcasts (for guests I already knew), but now I have been doing that more out of policy. It helps getting the chemistry going and aligning any points in the story you may not know and come handy to finalize your questions.
Share the questions – after the intro chat, I send my guests a list of questions which I usually follow closely. Whilst I have a standard set of themes I cover, I do try and adjust to the person, in order to ensure we can cover the different parts of her story. This also gives people a chance to prepare and be more relaxed, it avoids duplication of answers for multiple questions and you can also get a feel if the person is not comfortable or does not feel like that question applies to them.
Scheduling – all these things take time and email traffic to schedule. Now, when people agree to do a podcast I quickly share a Calendly link and I do the same when I share the questions and we need to find a date for recording. I found that the going back and forward to find a time for a chat and then time for a podcast recording were a waste of everyone’s time. So, I have now booked certain nights that I do podcast recording and others that I can do the short chats and so I send my guest the links to ensure she can chose freely and not waste any time. I have the paid version but the free allows for a fair amount as well
Technical Details – I have now created a one-pager with technical details about the podcast and what I need guests to do before and after. I did it half-way through and wish I always had it! It includes things such as ensuring they get my calendar invite with the Microsoft Teams links, ensuring they have good light and sound and also connecting to me on social media ahead of launch date. You can see my example here.
On the Day
Interview Time– reserve ample time before the interview to ensure you test your settings and all goes well. I tend to do my interviews post 9pm to ensure no children come unannounced. Sometimes, if I am interviewing someone in the US and it gets to late it then may show in my voice and energy, so I know which days of the week are best for it. To interview guests in Asia, you will need to adjust accordingly. And if your guest is also doing the interview at the end of a long working day, you may have to consider re-adjusting to ensure you get the right focus.
Pre-Recording – I tend to do the recordings of the intro just before my guest joins, as I feel that gets me in the right frame of mind. Out of policy, I smile for my intros, as my message is precisely one of hope and light. I also do try and do the outro straight after the interview to ensure I am still within the mindset
Quick Checks – Use the first few minutes of the interview to test out sound and make sure your guest is happy with all the questions and the set-up. If you have sent interview technical tips in advance, which I have only recently started doing, it will save some anxiety. Oh, and hit record!
Send for editing – once you are done recording all the segments, send to your editor as soon as possible (if you are outsourcing). Ideally, I try to send it already with the key message that I want to extract, because that will help putting it together faster. Even if you are not in a rush to get the podcast done, it is always helpful to frontload it. I was better at this in the beginning, especially because I “batch” interviewed in the first few weeks before I launched. Highly recommend always being “ahead” by 1 or 2 podcasts to ensure you keep a rhythm. Regularity is important
Show Notes – Something else that definitely also saved me time was writing the show notes straight out of the interview. I have not done that for all and I tell you that it is not as easy when I don’t. I chose not to do a transcript but rather a reflection on the interview and, as such, I find the energy coming out of the podcast is sometimes the most appropriate for writing it. If you are doing only a transcript, that is something you can outsource too! (you can tell I am a fan of outsourcing)
Tell your guests – It seems obvious I know, but don’t forget to tell your guest when you plan to launch it. Ideally send her a note a few days before with confirmation (and saying how great the interview was)
Go Live – once you reviewed the edited version and are happy with it, the launch is fairly easy (except for episode 1)
- Hosting Site (Libsyn) – there are good training videos out there, but in short, you will need i) media file, ii) artwork (for episode 1), iii) show notes, iv) a short transcript (for apple podcasts – word limit applies!), v) 3 chosen categories and naturally vi) your catchy title. Always make sure you update the id3 tags. Once published, Libsyn will provide you with a Libsyn link as well as html code to embed in a blog or website.
Note! For episode 1, you will have to go to the individual podcast lists – spotify, apple podcasts, soundcloud, stitcher, etc and create an account. You then create a new podcast and provide the libsyn feed link. That is the only time you have to do it!
Blog – if you have a blog, like I do, you want to publish the show notes as a blog article and embed the podcast into it. Depending on your blog provider you can have your blog as a separate tab from your home tab (I use WordPress) and as such it does not blend the usual articles you may publish with the podcast. If you are creating a blog exclusively for the podcast, then it is even easier.
Spread the Word – make sure you use social media and tag your guests. That will help use the power of their network as well. You may also want to ensure you publish the podcast into a few groups where you are an active member (without spamming) and use Whatsapp as an easy way to disseminate the link, especially for apple podcasts. I started also introducing a few video snippets in my social media as a way to show what the conversation was about and I think people are enjoying that. Though I sometimes wonder if they listen to those 2 minutes and never make it to the actual podcast. But hey, to each what serves them best.
Note – the video snippets take time to do, ensure you do a 1-2 minutes one for FB/Linkedin but also short 15 seconds ones for stories.
This is the part where I have not achieved consistency, but I am still sharing best practices and where I found there is value.
Thank you – a thank you note on the day is an obvious one (or the day after). And as I said above, don’t forget to tell your guest when you are launching. You can also do a more detailed thank you if you chose to share feedback. I still find that a bit weird so have only trialled that for now.
Send video snippets – share the video snippets you create so they can also share in their own stories if they so wish to. It is nice for them to have a piece of the video as well.
Send audio code for embedding in the website – if they have a website and want to share your podcast, you can share an easy html code for them to include.
Don’t obsess about stats – I stopped trying to obsess about what works and what people like. I get good feedback on most episodes but it comes from different places and everyone has different perspectives. I continue the motto of my articles. If it touches one person and helps them grow, I am happy.
I always leave my podcast recordings with a smile. As a somewhat introvert, this was really not a position I ever expected to be in. But I truly enjoy my conversations. I feel inspired by the women I have encountered, I feel privileged that they are spending time with me and I admit, I also feel a duty of making each of them the best interview yet.
I committed to doing 6 episodes for my first season, as I was afraid I would be an epic failure. And as I reach episode 10 I know that I have not failed. I may not be the podcaster of the year, but I am sticking true to my vision and I am getting fun and energy out of the podcasts!
And when I need a lift me up on the street when I am out for a walk, I pick any of my first 10 episodes and it puts a smile on my face.
Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash