3 Mistakes I Made When I Started Podcasting
and how you can learn from my lessons for a more enjoyable podcasting path
Take a look online, whether on Twitter, Facebook groups, Reddit, etc, and you’ll frequently come across questions about starting a podcast. From there, many answers share equipment to buy, hosts to use, etc.
All well, all good. But what you don’t often see is what you shouldn’t do, and why, based on personal experience and lessons learned.
So, while this is in no way an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts - after all, it’s all subjective to individual needs - here are three lessons I wish I’d known when I started podcasting seriously back in 2018.
1: I Would Have Had a Plan
If you discount my first foray into podcasting (a single episode on Blog Talk Radio way back in 2009), my first real podcast was an old hobby podcast called Life Through a Dram.
It basically consisted of me talking about a topic that caught my eye that week, and ruminating on it while savouring a dram of fine single malt whisky.
While it was fun for a while (and let me indulge in one of my favourite pastimes!), it soon ran out of steam, as I began to struggle on what I should talk about.
Should I recant news stories and, if so, how serious should they be
Should I talk about my personal life
Should I have friends on
Would it matter if I’m infrequent
All these questions and more came about because I didn’t have a plan when I started out. Instead, I saw some people podcasting and thought, how hard can it be? I also expected that tons of people would want to listen to my missives - how wrong I was on that one!
So, needless to say, because of this and because of all the questions I was now asking myself, I soon feel out of like with the show, and it tapered off.
Today, whenever I start a new podcast, I have a plan already in place with the questions I want to answer before even starting the show:
marketing plan/community outreach
if I meet my goals, then what
how do I pivot if needed - do I?
These are just some of the notes I go over with each new podcast, and plan out a framework of what everything looks like when it comes to answering each point. Without that, I don’t launch a podcast because I know I’ll probably run out of like with it too down the road (this is different from a podcast reaching its natural conclusion).
So, plan ahead and know what you want from the show. And if you’re in that boat at the minute, at Captivate we’ve got an awesome free launch course - no strings attached - to help you get started properly.
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2: I Wouldn’t Sweat the Numbers
This is probably one that all podcasters can nod along to - that obsessive pull to check your analytics every minute. That was me - seriously - EVERY DAMN MINUTE!
New episode dropped? Check the stats! New share on social media? Check the stats! Haven’t checked the stats in a minute? Check the stats!
I guess it’s a natural thing for every new podcaster (it was for me) - you’re excited that you’ve launched, and you want to see how many others share that excitement. After all, you’ve told your friends, your family, your connections, and you just know they’re all going to listen, right…?
And so I checked the stats. And checked. And checked once more, for good luck. And, of course, the difference was minimal.
And it was deflating.
Even though that first podcast was a hobby one, and one that I didn’t plan for, it still felt discouraging to be doing something that few people wanted to hear.
But then, why would they? I didn’t have a marketing plan in place - simply drop once on social media and away I go for the next episode. I didn’t have an email list. I didn’t network with other podcasters.
Most importantly, I didn’t give anyone a reason to listen.
I just simply recorded, uploaded, published, and that was it. Maybe I was expecting my Field of Dreams moment, but - like the listeners - it didn’t come.
Building a podcast takes time, even with a kick-ass marketing plan and growth strategy. There’s so much that goes into it that it’s almost - almost - impossible to hit the ground running with great analytics to show for it.
So, don’t sweat the numbers because you’re not getting the thousands of downloads all the gurus tell you you should be getting from day one.
Instead, look at data that you can use to optimize your show:
recommendations from listeners and other podcasters
churn rate/stickiness of episodes and where listeners are dropping off
most effective referral channels
Analytics are great, because they inform us on where we’re succeeding and where we need to either put more effort, or cut our losses and run.
Use them, but don’t be chained to them.
For some super insightful thoughts around this, check out this thread over on Twitter from super knowledgeable and uber-friendly Mark Asquith, which includes this gem:
3: I Would Have Learned How to Edit
I cannot state this one enough - when I first started, I really wished I had learned editing and the importance even the slightest tweaks can make.
Instead, Life Through a Dram was recorded and uploaded raw. And, man, when I listen back to that, it’s painful.
long gaps in the audio
rambling sentences that go nowhere
lots of echo and background noise
Now, some of that was always going to happen - I was in a large room, with lots of hard, bare surfaces, with either the AC or heater running, or windows open and lots of outside noise coming through.
But knowing what I do now, through hours and hours of watching YouTube videos, asking other podcasters, and just getting to know more about the production process in general, I know now there really was no excuse for not learning at least some basic editing processes.
I think my problem back then was two-fold:
I was ignorant as to why sound mattered (yes, sounds silly now!)
I was too lazy
Editing was something professional podcasters did, and it cost a lot of money and took a lot of time - why would I be bothered about that?
But then - maybe that’s one of the reasons my show wasn’t growing. Maybe the audience took a listen, and thought “If he doesn’t care about our experience, why should I care about him?”
Think about it - you go to see a new movie, you’ve been looking forward to it, and you’ve spent a small fortune to get a seat in one of the VIP lounges where there’s Dolby Atmos sound. You’re all set for an experience.
And then the movie starts, and there’s hissing in the audio, there’s no editing in the visuals, just sharp cuts when the camera stopped rolling, etc.
It would seriously dampen your enjoyment of the movie (if you stayed around to watch it all). Podcasting is the same - create the experience for your listener that they deserve. That means:
learn about audio levels and normalization
learn about LUFS
learn about filler content and unwanted noise
learn about the importance of a good recording environment
This last one is probably one of the most overlooked, yet one of the easiest to “fix”. If you’re in a room with bare, hard surfaces, it’s going to echo. Yes, you can get close to your mic, but then that can cause new issues (proximity effect, plosives, etc).
So add softness. Cushions, pillows, a rug, curtains, a soft chair, etc. All of these dampen your voice bouncing off the hard surfaces, which makes it easier to edit afterwards.
There are some podcasters who swear they never edit, and don’t need to. And that’s fine - if that works for you, great (though I’ve listened to some episodes, and you can tell they don’t edit).
But for everyone else, I highly recommend learning the basics of editing and different audio production tricks and techniques. Trust me, it’s worth it.
There are some great options for editing, too, depending on your budget, hardware, and learning curve required:
So these are the three mistakes I made when I started podcasting. There are more (not giving transcripts the respect they deserve, for example), but these three are probably the ones that I could easily have avoided right from the start.
How about you? I’m really curious to see what you’d add to the list - hit me up in the comments if you’re reading this online, or hit “Reply” if you’re reading this via email, and give me your smarts.
Until the next time…