10 Steps to Your First 10 Episodes
The sad truth is that most podcasts fail, or “podfade” before they reach double figures. In fact, episode 7 is often the dreaded number many a series reaches before it’s abandoned and forgotten.
Starting your own podcast can be daunting and challenging, but it doesn’t need to be so difficult and frustrating that you don’t enjoy it and you give up. Any big job is easy when you break it down into lots of little jobs, and if you get off on the right footing with your podcast then it’ll be a lot easier to keep going in the long run.
These 10 steps to launching your first 10 episodes are geared towards helping you through the uncharted waters of those first few months.
Let’s start with the single most important part of your show:
1. Your Topic
First and foremost, your topic needs to be the right one for you. You could follow all the other steps in this article to the letter, but if you’re podcasting on the wrong topic then you’ll struggle to make it to episode 10.
How do you know which topic is “right” before you’ve even recorded an episode? Well, is it on a subject that you often find yourself talking about on a daily basis? Is it a topic that never bores you? One that you never feel you need a break from?
Imagine you’d actually launched your podcast a year ago. Visualise yourself browsing your show in a podcast app, scrolling through the episodes. What would those episodes be? How many can you come up with off the top of your head? If you struggle to think of more than a handful, then that might be a little warning that you’ve not quite found the right topic. However, if you’re reeling off more potential episodes than you could possibly record, then you’ve struck oil.
2. Set Targets
Do you assure yourself that you’re going to get round to launching your podcast once you have more time, or once you just learn a little more about this or that?
That’s classic procrastination symptoms. If you don’t set yourself some targets or deadlines, then days turn to weeks, weeks turn to months, and a year later you realise you’ve still not launched.
Write a basic plan in a Word Doc or Evernote, and try to get something done each week that brings you closer to launching. It might look a little like...
- Week 1 - Write down 10 potential episode titles
- Week 2 - Research and order my microphone
- Week 3 - Record first episode (even if you end up re-recording it!)
The key here is to feel a sense of progression and accomplishment as you move forward, step by step. You can aim small with each target – in fact, the more achievable, the better.
You’ll begin to pick up momentum and before long, working on your podcast will be part of your routine.
Be honest with yourself. Decide how much time you can dedicate to working on your podcast. It’ll save you a lot of trouble later on.
There's no point setting out to produce an hour-long, highly polished, documentary-style show every week if you don't have the time to actually make it.
Remember, there's a bit more to creating a podcast episode than simply hitting record. The process behind your average episode looks something like...
- Planning & Research
- Setting Up
- Editing & Production
- Shownotes & Written Data
- Uploading & Publishing
The consensus in podcasting is that you can multiply your finished episode’s length by four, and that'll be roughly how long the entire process takes.
For example, a 15min weekly show would need an hour per week to manage. A 30min show would need 2 hours, a 1 hour show would need 4 hours, and so on.
Make sure you can find the time to deliver the type of episodes you have planned for your podcast. If not, adjust things accordingly.
Read more: How much time does it take to run a podcast?
4. Defend Your Time
Once you've identified the amount of time you think you'll need to run a sustainable podcast, you need to block out that time each week and defend it with your life.
Let's say you're going with the weekly episode of approximately 15mins, so you want an hour a week to work on your show.
It's better to have that hour marked in your diary or calendar on the same day and time each week, rather than just trying to find the time whenever you can.
Obviously that might be easier said than done depending on home life, work patterns etc. But consistency in putting your show together will lead to consistency in getting it out there, and that's how you'll grow an audience.
If you can get everything done in one focused hour, you'll feel better about the rest of the week. You won't be running around chasing your tail trying to find a moment to write up your shownotes, and do some editing on the fly.
Having this time available every single week might mean saying no to others at times.
That can be difficult at first, but if you let people know your schedule in advance they'll gradually come to understand that you're not around at this time, and begin work around it.
Read more: How do I find time to podcast?
5. Creating Good Recording Conditions
You don't need a recording studio to record a podcast. But creating good recording conditions can save you a lot of time in the long run. So what do I mean by "good" recording conditions?
- Somewhere that you're unlikely to be disturbed
- Somewhere with no/minimal background noise
- Somewhere with no/minimal reverb
Preventing disturbances and distractions means you can record your podcast without being interrupted or sidetracked. That also cuts down on editing time too.
Save on production time spent cleaning up background noise and reducing the echo on your voice - record your audio in a quiet environment. Avoid hard surfaces that'll have your voice bouncing all over the room.
Read more: How to create a silent home studio.
6. The Easy Set-up
Few people have the luxury of having a permanent recording space for their podcast, where they can leave their equipment set up and ready to start recording at any given notice.
If you're lucky enough to have such a space, then this step might not be so relevant for you.
If you're in the vast majority however, it's important to place as few obstacles to recording an episode in your way as possible.
Having a mic in a boom arm, plugged into a mixer, running into a recorder, is a great setup. But you don't need all that to record a podcast.
Consider the time you'd take to set everything up, then take it all down again and put it away. Imagine you used that time on your actual content instead? You can plug a USB mic into your computer and have it ready to record in a matter of seconds, and in my opinion, this is absolutely the way to go if you're just starting out.
You get some great sounding USB mics too, so you don't have to sacrifice sound quality here. My personal favourite is the Samson Q2U.
Alternatively, you can even use your smartphone to record. There are some great mic choices out there for phones too nowadays, like the Rode SmartLav +, for example.
Read more: Podcasting equipment for every type of podcaster.
7. Minimum Effective Editing
When you first learn how to edit audio, and realise you can run through your entire episode cutting little bits out, it's natural to start over-editing. If you take out every little fluff, every `um` and `ah`, then you can make yourself sound like a really polished, professional presenter.
However, in most cases, it's just going to sound a bit unnatural and over-edited. This can actually be far more jarring for some listeners than hearing a few ums and ahs.
You'll also never really feel the need to improve your presentation skills, because you can just rely on editing to fix everything later on. This makes editing a crutch, rather than a tool to further enhance your show. On top of that, it's going to take you ages to edit every episode in this manner, and this comes back to what we said about making your podcast sustainable.
Read more: How to get the best sounding audio for your podcast?
8. Become a Magpie
Not literally, don't worry. This is more to do with the way you gather your content and episode topics.
Your listeners will always be more engaged and tuned in to what you're saying when you're telling a story.
This doesn't mean you need to start your episodes with "once upon a time", but instead of reeling off hard facts and information, try to relate things back to your own experiences, how something might have worked (or not worked) for you in the past, how you learned something, or why you think something is a good idea.
Of course, it doesn't necessarily need to be you at the centre of each story. You can use the examples of historical figures or famous people - athletes, musicians, artists - doing something that demonstrates a certain point.
Keep a note of any interactions, experiences, or anecdotes from your everyday life too. You can use these to make certain points, or to show something in a kind of metaphorical way.
Being a magpie just means you're constantly on the lookout for little bits and pieces that you might be able to use in your episodes. Taking this approach can really help you from getting to the stage where you've no idea what you're going to talk about in the next episode.
9. No Feedback? Don't Be Discouraged
Once you've launched your podcast, it becomes a bit of a habit to constantly check your download stats.
As you see your numbers gradually increase, you begin to eagerly anticipate just one of those listeners getting in touch with you.
And yet, despite your calls to get in touch at the end of each episode, your inbox remains empty.
There are two things to keep in mind here; the first is that this is completely normal, and it takes most new podcasters months and months before they'll hear a thing from anyone who's listening.
You've got to remember that you're starting from scratch, and to build an audience is a slow burner. You need to be prepared to play the long game.
A few listeners will mean to get in touch, but people are usually out and about whilst listening, and not usually in a position to write to you.
Just keep mentioning it at the end of the show, persevere, and you'll gradually start to get feedback, comments, and questions from your audience.
And when you do get those first few emails, really take the time to get to know those listeners. In a few years time you might be getting a lot more emails and you won't have the time to have more in-depth chats with people who get in touch, so enjoy it whilst you can.
Read more: How long does it take to build a following?
10. Don't Be Afraid to Change Things
If you're a presenter on the TV or radio, you've got very little creative freedom. Strict time limits and several layers of management are just two of the things that are going to dictate everything you ever do there.
With your own podcast though, you're the boss. It's entirely up to you how you do things, and you don't need to get it wrapped up in five minutes as you're about to head to the news and weather.
Consistency is important in the long run, and your listeners will come to expect certain things from the show, in terms of the format, and length.
But in the early days, you shouldn't feel obliged to stick to anything if you feel it isn't working, or if you think of a better way of doing something.
You might change your intro music, or get rid of it completely. You might switch from a 20min monologue to an hour long interview format. Don't be afraid to change and try things.
Gradually you'll begin to find your stride and settle on a format and approximate length that you're totally comfortable with.
You're not banned from making changes further down the line either. Some podcasters have totally reworked their shows after 100 or even 500 episodes.
Just be sure to check in with your audience when you're making any changes, even if you're still in the "no feedback" zone we talked about earlier. Giving the audience a platform to have their say will be appreciated though - even if they don't actually take you up on your offer.
It's a good idea every now and then to survey your audience and ask for their feedback, comments, and suggestions. You don't necessarily have to act on anything that comes up in these surveys, but it's good to get a measure for what your listeners are thinking. If you're both happy with the podcast then it's only going to go from strength to strength.
Reaching 10 Episodes
We’ve talked about setting targets, and 10 episodes is a great benchmark to aim for when you’re starting out.
The key is that you don’t fall over the finishing line thinking “well, that was a slog”, but instead, you feel ready to go on and make your next 100 episodes. And if you don’t, run back through this list and find out where you feel things didn’t work out. You can always start again. Some podcasters start 4-5 shows before they finally find the right one for them.
Thanks for taking the time to read through this article, and before you head off to do something else, just remember to set that one target that you want to have done in the next 7 days.
Once you do that, you’ve edged that little bit closer to putting out your first 10 episodes.
Matthew McLean is an audio producer, writer, and podcaster for the Podcast Host.