Podcasting – How to Start, Market, and Challenges

This week I get meta and tell you how the sausage is made with podcasting: why I started this podcast, how I structure them, how I publish and promote it, and hopefully rekindle something to keep going.

Creating things

I was always into creating things, like drawing or making little movies on a borrowed camcorder. Making movies was something that kept up through high school where me and my best friend tried to do any projects we could in movie form. We’d spend 30% of the time doing the project and 70% making fake bloopers or a fake making-of documentary at the end.

The Internet and computers really changed everything for me. I remember when we had our dial-up connected in 1997 on our first PC, an IBM that cost about 4 grand and was bought from a furniture store.

Up till then, creativity came with a cost, whether it was paper and drawing things like pencils, erasers, markers. It took a lot of himming and hawing and commitment when I had to choose what to draw. It limited my creativity in a way.

With video, you could only record over the tapes so many times before the footage looked like it was taken with a potato. I remember ordering those free, religious VHS off the TV just so we could have more tape to use to record.

With the computer, there was no cost – you could draw something, another thing, as many things and you didn’t use any real material. Without the worry about using up markers or running out of paper, I could experiment. Add audio and video and it blew my mind.

When the Internet took off and there was a way to show off anything I made, I became hooked on building websites. I had dozens of sites on Geocities with all the cool, visual trends like marquees, blinking text, gifs, midi music playing in the background, and my name following the cursor around.

When Flash came around, I got into animation and interactive sites to take the everything-soup style websites I made to the next level of ..what’s the opposite of user friendly? That.

When high speed internet became more common and audio/video streaming grew, podcasts entered the picture.

Podcasts and me

This isn’t my first podcast, or my second, or my third. This is actually my fourth podcast in over a decade.

The first podcast I did was called “The Superfun Happy Hour” with my wife, Laura from probably over 10 years ago. I searched and couldn’t find any proof of it existing.

It was basically a knock-off of The Totally Rad Show where we talked about movies, shows, and games we watched or played.

The Totally Rad Show was a weekly show with three guys talking about movies, shows, and games they watched or played. One of the hosts was also a host of the Diggnation, a pioneer show from 2005 about 2 guys who talked about interesting internet things distributed for free on the Internet.

At this point, I was already doing freelance web design and making real money but I needed a creative outlet. Like most of things I tried, I emulated things I liked and that’s how The Superfun Happy Hour was born.

We did probably a dozen episodes and stopped. I don’t remember exactly why we stopped but it was probably creating too much work and structure for just watching a movie. We also didn’t have a good idea how many people listened but I doubt it was more than a dozen.

Almost 5 years ago, I did my second podcast with my brother about Wrestling. Wrestling is another episode but the long story short is that we’d been watching wrestling since the early 90s, had broken a handful of mattress trying out moves, and been to a bunch of shows.

My brother is also a creative person, so much so he moved to LA and is working in the music industry. He’s taken it a lot further than I have. The podcast was called the Jobber’s Corner where we talked about weekly shows and did a tosh.0 style bit on funny, old school wrestling clips.

We did 15 episode and life happened: my first kid was born and he got busier with work. I think we also just got it out of our system where the fun wasn’t more than the work we put into it. You can still find and listen to it if you’re a wrestling fan.

My third podcast was called I Got Questions, and you can find this one online still too. I did it about 2 years ago after getting the itch to record again. I did 10 episodes where I interviewed family and friends about their lives, kind of like Tim Ferris’ podcast.

I noticed everyone I knew had interesting stories to tell and thought the combo talking to friends and basically an endless list of content would be a good mix. And it was. I had fun and learned a lot about the people closest to me. I even recorded hours with my wife’s grand father, who is now 98. That episode is basically recording history.

I stopped after 10 episodes because, and you’ve probably noticed a pattern, I felt like I got it out of my system. I wasn’t having enough fun to warrant trying to schedule and coordinate people to keep up with a bi-weekly episode and there wasn’t enough people listening to feel like I had to keep going.

That’s a Hobby Podcast

So what about this show? Why do a fourth podcast after doing three and saying I got it out of my system? Well, I have a short attention span and like to try new things. I get the itch to do something creative if I haven’t in a while.

I always loved doing podcasts – it’s audio only but editing is layered. I get to work on trimming timing, picking music, structuring it, and recording. Knowing that somewhere out there someone is listening to my voice is very cool.

I was also inspired but a new, produced style of podcast I noticed were becoming more popular, like Serial, Revisionist History, and Planet Money. They weren’t two people just chatting, they felt like documentaries with structure, a story, and audio production.

I wanted to try doing a podcast like that and I wanted to do it solo so that I wouldn’t have to coordinate with someone else. When I was thinking of topics, I wanted to do something a bit more light hearted than deep conversations with friends and more interesting to more people than wrestling.

For the topic, I realized it was the fourth time I was trying podcasts again and thought about all the things I had tried over the years, like stand up, racing cars, and drawing, and ended up googling “interesting hobbies”. When I found a list of 20 interesting hobbies, I figure out the answer to the content question.

How to start a podcast

Having done this before, I had a head start on how to start a podcast.

First, the equipment. I had a decent mic, a Audio-Technica AT2005, which makes me sound a lot better than real life. I used my Mac like I did before and use Logic Pro to record and edit. You can actually use Garageband too, I just like to use pro tools because…you know, ego and all that.

Next, was choosing a name and creating the album cover. I bounced some ideas around with my wife and landed on That’s a Hobby more as That’s a Hobby?! because the original idea was to talk about the stranger hobbies like mooing and competitive dog grooming. After I did a few episodes, I learned it was harder to do good episodes on topics without a lot of articles and videos so the show became more informative.

Album cover wise and art in general, I use Canva, which is like blasphemy coming from using Adobe everything. But I saw my wife use Canva for years for her blog and instagram and put time savings over artistic achievement. As I’ve learned in my professional life, spend your time on the right things – for me, that was on the podcast itself and not the art.

The next thing was to figure out how to actually record a solo, produced podcast about a different topic every episode. It’s a lot easier to talk about the same topic every episode with someone else to keep a conversation going. You still need structure but you can also let it flow organically.

The style of show I’m trying to emulate has a clear structure and a lot more prep. This is where NPR and Gimlet Media come in, probably the two biggest names in mainstream podcast media companies. They both put out great content for podcast creators on how to prep and product a quality show.

They helped me understand what a structured podcast looks like: it has parts or acts, an interesting topic, and an obvious story. I don’t think I’ve nailed it but I definitely figure out some sort of structure about 5 episodes in: intro the topic with some foreshadowing, connect it to myself in some way, do a bit of background on the hobby, talk about how to actually do it and tips, some controversy is a bonus, and end with connecting the dots to how it relates to me.

The last part is distributing and marketing the show. It’s the most straight-forward but most time consuming and part I enjoy the least. Hosting and distributing is the easiest – you can pay for podcast hosting or use free hosting like I use on Anchor.fm. Anchor is great not only because it’s free (and it’s not going anywhere, Spotify bought them) but because it does all the heavy lifting of getting the show listed on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, the two biggest distributers. Just upload to Anchor, publish, and you’re done.

Marketing a Podcast

The hardest part is marketing the show and getting people to listen. In the early days, it was more of a “build it and they will come” kind of world for podcasts. Now there are almost a million active podcasts with more then 30 million episodes and that number is growing daily.

About half of the US says they listen to a podcast regularly, the majority on mobile but 90% of all listening is done in the home.

Working in my favour, 3 out of 4 said they listen to learn new things and the majority listen on a monthly basis. When they listen, they listen a lot – over 80% say they listen to at least 7h a week.

Here’s the tricky part – of the people who listen to podcasts regularly, they listen to 6 shows. that is really tough competition to get into. It’s like the speed dial episode of Seinfeld where there are only so many spots to be in that list.

It’s even tougher when your show isn’t something that they’d obviously be interested in. It would have been so much easier to market this show if it was about Star Trek or football or politics – there is an already established fan base I can tap into.

No, I had to pick a topic that’s for a different group every week. I tried going to individual communities, like on Reddit, but there are pretty strict promotion rules and since I’m not a regular member, I rarely met the criteria.

I tried SEO with the thatsahobby.com site, where I post show notes for each episode, but that hasn’t been very successful.

Where I spend most o my time is on Twitter, where I can network with other podcasters, even podcasters who live in Ottawa as well and have a podcast about hobbies..small world. I can tap into different feeds and hashtags based on topics the week before and after an episode, like I did with autocross. I can also get listeners organically through my general posts. This is the only part of marketing I actually enjoy because half the effort is writing the best one-liners or arguing with people online.

I tried the same style of posting on Instagram and have more followers than I thought I would but I don’t know if it’s actually leading to any real listeners.

It’s a lot of effort and like I said earlier, I like to put my effort where it matters to me, making shows, but with podcasts you have to promote it and that takes a lot of time. You do a podcast for people to listen, it’s not a personal journal for most people. To get people to listen, you have to put it in front of people, hope they listen, and hope they add it to their already small list of regular listens.

Unless you come into with a fan base or network before you release an episode, it’s an uphill battle. And it has been.

What’s next for the podcast

I didn’t know if I’d do this episode. I don’t mean on podcasts, I mean a 20th episode. I haven’t been as motivated, I’ve been starting to feel the “getting it out of my system feel”, but I thought if this is the last episode, it should feel like a natural end. A podcast about the hobby of making a podcast feels that right.

I’m genuinely proud of this podcast, more than any other podcast I’ve done before. It’s partly because I did it all myself, partly because of all the prep that goes into it, and partly all the positive feedback I’ve gotten and not just from people I know. I got surprised with sincere positive feedback from other podcasters that meant a lot.

When I decided to this episode and on this topic, I was also doing it to see if it could act as a motivator – maybe if I talk about how I got here and why I started in the first place, it would remind me of what I was missing before I did the show to keep me going.

I guess we’ll see if it worked.