When I was younger I could work for a lot longer without breaks. Now I get tired. It's not so much a physical thing as it is a mental thing - my ideas get a little slower to form and my ability to focus on learning and developing is hindered.
That's hardly surprising - rest is vital to a successful and happy lifestyle - but the challenge that I often find personally is knowing what to do in order to develop myself after I've rested.
There's so much that commands your attention and often, as podcasters, we're running our podcast "on the side" (I refuse to say "side hustle" because I'm not trying to sell you a course) so when it comes to producing our show we do it by the numbers.
Producing becomes the only thing we "have to get through" in order to keep our show going but if you've followed me for a while, you know that it's not about just keeping going, it's about moving forward and growing our audience.
Why do we stagnate?
Stagnation comes, in my view, from continually treading water but mistaking that treading as forward motion.
The production of our show is vital, but if that's all we do then we're treading water. To move forward we have to upgrade ourselves bit by bit in such a way that we learn new skills and in such a way that we learn to distinguish between when we're making a decision based on comfort, stubbornness or an unwillingness to adapt.
The problem that I see a lot of podcasters face is that they don't know where to start with educating themselves on, for example, podcast marketing & promotion (here's a free thing for that, btw) so they push harder into the things that they're comfortable with to patch over the mental wound of being anxious about beginning to learn something new and uncomfortable.
I get that completely, I really do, because we all do it. Every single one of us at some point in our lives takes the easier, more comfortable and known path.
The challenge is that, mentally, we want to progress and we want to develop and we know that we're getting in our own way - but if we aren't careful, our ego slips into the mix and we begin to get defensive about our situation in such a way that pushes us more and more into a production cycle - "Hey I don't want to hear this feedback because I don't know how to act on it so instead, I'll just produce more and more episodes so that I feel great about doing something and we'll see how it goes."
You can only do that for so long.
After a much-shorter-than-expected amount of time, you begin to get frustrated with your lack of progress again. Maybe your downloads aren't moving in the right direction, maybe your audience engagement isn't where you want it to be and the cycle begins anew: it's hard to hear tough feedback, so you produce something you're comfortable with to make yourself feel better and off we go again...
That, my beautiful podcaster, is why we stagnate.
Let's learn to be uncomfortable.
Discomfort for a podcaster comes in many forms. Often, it begins with an inkling or some feedback that the show that we love producing isn't quite as good as we think it is.
Sure, that can be subjective but when enough people start saying it, we have to take an objective look at it. We must put ourselves in the minds of our listeners and have empathy with the thing that they're investing in: our show - time isn't free and every time someone listens to our podcast, they invest a little bit more in to our brand.
What's more, new listeners may be experiencing the same thoughts as your stalwart listeners and simply choosing to go elsewhere for their content, resulting in slow audience growth and diminishing returns on the time that we invest in the podcast.
I've seen this countless times and in fact, one of my very favourite shows has just stopped publishing for this reason - it's such a shame.
Discomfort can also come from worrying that, if we DO accept that we may need to make changes to our show, it may cause more work for us and that can be scary.
After all, we're used to our production cycle and "getting through" another episode so that we can say that we've done it but when it demands thoughtful, highly considered work we can easily shy away from it.
This, in my experience, is the #1 reason that "entrepreneur" podcasters quit - they've been told they can "put it on autopilot" or "podcast in less than an hour a week".
Well, I can play golf for less than an hour per week, but I'll never cure my slice or lower my score if I do that, will I? (NB: this assumes golfing talent, which I sorely lack.)
I've distilled the reasons that we stagnate into three categories: fear of extra work, fear of not knowing what to do and our fragile podcaster ego.
When we start a podcast, we can do what we want with it and sure, it remains "our" show but the second that people listen to it we're making ourselves accountable to them - we have to deliver what they want otherwise they get their audio fix elsewhere.
What's interesting about podcasting is that our listeners choose to listen to us. Little old us, the indie podcaster in the bedroom producing a show that we love and so, when they do give us feedback, it's from a real place of positivity and support - they want us to succeed and grow because if we do, we can give them more content that they love!
So, we have to remove our ego from the equation, first.
Let's learn to understand that if someone gives us feedback on our show, they aren't attacking us or being ungrateful for what we produce and what give to them for free. Instead, they're usually trying to help in their own way.
But it's really uncomfortable to hear that our mic is too loud, or the audio quality isn't great or that the format we love is becoming repetitive or [insert constructive criticism here]...
If we can let go of the ego part of our podcasting processes then we can actually use our audience positively and generate free feedback and "user testing" from our listeners without much effort.
We can even build this into our episode flow by devoting a call to action to "Hey, have feedback for me? Just email me on email@example.com and I'd love to hear it and think it through!".
What's fun about this is that, having removed our ego, we gain the important feedback which in turn helps us with those other two stagnation reasons - fear of extra work and fear of not knowing what to do.
Consider this: a listener doesn't like your intro music (it happens) and (with ego out of the equation) you objectively listen to it and realise that, even though you like it and it reflected your ideas in the early days, your show has developed to a point where it no longer quite fits the brand tone of voice that you're aiming for to attract new listeners.
This gives you a starting point: you don't have to be afraid of what to do next (test new intro music) and you don't need to worry about it causing extra work (it's a one-off project that needs a couple of hours, max).
That's a pretty simple example but it works for marketing or promotion, too.
You could gain feedback from your audience on where they found your podcast or why they decided to try it. Let's assume that a solid percentage of your audience found it via a friend on Facebook and chose to listen because they really loved the short-form content that you produce and your no-nonsense attitude to whatever you talk about.
That feedback has given you a specific next step: work on a call to action that asks people to share on Facebook and to tell people that your no-nonsense episodes are less than 15 minutes long and about [whatever your niche is].
You know what to do and you know how to do it in minutes.
Will that boost your audience instantly?
No, but it'll help! And if you use Captivate's short links feature, you could even track the impact it has!
These small things mount up and help to grow your audience. There is NO "one way" to build a following but there IS one way to fail at it: get in your own way.
Building anything pushes us to adapt and develop ourselves not only physically but mentally, too. We can learn to become comfortable being uncomfortable which, in turn, pushes us to try new things and test ideas without the fear of masses of extra work and without wondering where to start or what to do next.
We have to do something to grow our audience but the first thing that we must do is to make sure that it isn't us holding ourselves and our podcast back from greatness.
Your next steps
I teach podcasting a lot, and usually for free. So, here's what I'd recommend you do next:
P.S. you can start engaging with your listeners using AWeber. It's free, no credit card required: Mark.Live/Email