The New Year is the reaper of podcasts.
January is always the time many podcasters lamenting what they see as low audience numbers. Final year numbers are the harbinger for those looking to podfade — to quit their show completely. They see their small-ish audience size, minimal downloads per episode, and disappointing analytics as a sign.
What kind of sign? A bad sign in that nobody likes their show.
However, they misunderstand the signs. They see these signs as a reason to start thinking about doing something else. Instead, what it really means is that they are not yet done growing their podcast yet. They only see the episodes, not the entirety of their own podcast’s lifecycle.
Missing the Forest Despite the Trees
Too many find themselves at this podcasting crossroads. It goes beyond the momentum-killing episode numbers of #3, #7, #10, and #13. It is the big anniversaries that you have to survive next like the semicentennial and centennial episode numbers of #50 and #100. Just when they start to hit their stride, these podcasters tap out.
They think, “If I don’t have an audience by now, then what’s the point?”
If you find yourself in the High-Risk of Podfading group, I want you to try an exercise for me. I want you to lay down on the floor.
Lay down on the floor?
Yes! But when you get down there, I want you to think about how you would move around the room if you could only do it on your back. Got it?
Now go lay down.
Yes! Go lay down on the floor, look up at your device or laptop — however you are reading this — and observe the change. Go! Do it right now for about 1-minute, then come back.
[Intermission — hopefully you are laying on the floor right now and thinking good thoughts!]
What was that for? A real, reality-based physical change of perspective. The act of laying on the floor is a way to force you to look at your world differently. It may seem silly, but nothing changes your perspective like looking at a problem from a new point of view.
What did you see when you were down there? Does the floor need to be cleaned? Did you notice that the ceiling is an off-white color that could use some paint? How about what you came up with on how you would move around?
You might have thought that sliding is an option. You could have rolled too. What about crawling or walking? Can you really move around when you’re laying on the floor? Not really. Not without your arms and legs to propel you. Guess what? Your podcast is no different!
Without the strength of our arms or legs, we all start on the floor. And that’s that point!
Podcast Life from Age Zero
All podcasts start a zero. Zero episodes, zero listeners, and zero downloads; or in the case of our exercise, all podcasts start on the floor.
Just like a baby.
You could think of this concept by using the saying, “you must crawl before you can stand, stand before you walk, and walk before you run”. However, as a podcaster, you have to rethink that saying to fit the reality of podcasting. You have to consider the time it takes to build a good podcast using a lifecycle. A lifecycle adds an element that many podcasters ignore: Time.
Lots of time.
From what I have discovered, it’s about three years on average. Three years is a long time and a lot can happen in that time. In the context of a podcasting lifecycle, especially one that could span three years of your life, you quickly learn that halfway is only 100 weekly episodes. That is because, in a podcasting lifecycle, you don’t start with crawling, you start with burping.
Yes, just like a baby. Your first episodes are burps. A burp — like your first podcast episodes — are loud, unexpected arrivals of noise that come seemingly out of nowhere. Some people hear them but (sorry to say) most don’t. If you think of your podcast like a baby, it needs time to grow before it can crawl on its own. This means creating a lot of burps that many people will not hear.
Fortunately, if you burp long enough, eventually you start to master your burps. Remember the day you could say words with your burps the first time? How about the entire alphabet with one burp? This is the podcasting equivalent of learning to crawl. The longer you podcast, the more tries you get at learning to crawl.
It also gives your audience more time to find you, or for you to find them. Some podcasters learn how to crawl earlier than others, but all those that spend enough time trying eventual crawl within the first 18-months of their show.
There’s that pesky word again — time!
Many veteran podcasters claim that it was somewhere around the 18-month mark where they finally discovered their voice. This is the lifecycle equivalent of standing — standing on their own! Not walking or running, but just standing. It took them a year-and-a-half of burping and crawling just to stand. Does that sound like how you should feel when you reach episodes #3, #7, #10, #13, or even #50?
Instead, podcast lifecycle thinking should tell you that it takes over 100 episodes before you finally figure out how to stand on your own. That makes episode #100 the halfway point of any good show.
In a Rush to Grow Up
If it takes that long to just stand, then why do so many quit podcasting after only a few burps? The answer to this is the difference between a podcaster and a podfader. Podfaders only try podcasting by burping a few times then give up when nobody listens. They suffer from something the podcasting lifecycle does not support: instant gratification. They do not see the hard slog that includes bad burps, awkward wobbles, crawling through dirt, and dozens of hard falls.
Instead, they only see the podcaster now standing on their own two feet. It’s just as Steve Jobs once said, “The overnight success took ten years.” To them, it appears as of the podcaster has become an overnight success, which fuels the myth that they can do that too. They have Podfaders Syndrom — unrealistic expectation that the phases within the podcasting lifecycle do not apply to them. They think that their first try at podcasting will be met with overwhelming success. Only they are thinking about their podcast like a blockbuster film.
These are the people that create dozens of episodes before ever launching one, just like the pre-production of a major motion picture. They’ve already pre-screened their unpublished shows to their friends and family (who think they are great), and are now marketing their podcast like crazy. They want to build hype without the understanding that podcasting is not like a feature movie. If it was, then their podcast would do great on it’s opening launch weekend, only to slowly burn down to nothing as it fizzled out over the next few weeks.
That would be tough to endure too.
Unfortunately, in podcasting, the burping phase of the lifecycle is not that forgiving. When they launch their fabulous podcast to the world on opening night, nobody shows up. They have not learned that only your family hears the first burp of your new podcast and sadly, it is often only your family hears that hears the 50th burp as well. This is why so many quit podcasting after only a few burps.
Podcasters HAVE to burp before they can crawl, and HAVE to crawl before they can stand. There are no shortcuts to learning how to walk. That is why so many podfaders do the baby equivalent of spiting-up on their shirts before they walk away from it all. They quickly learn just how much time is spent burping and crawling before they even get the opportunity to stand up for the first time. They want to run on day one. But when they find out that podcasting is not a “run on day one” kind of profession, they quit.
Podcasting is measured by Lifecycles, not numbers
You cannot measure your podcast against the success or failure of others. No two podcasts are alike just as no two podcasters are alike. We all learn and grow at different rates. Fortunately, there are some common mile markers that most podcasters have to hit as they grow. These milestones include time spent on the microphone and in working the podcasting process. Most veteran podcasters agree that once you pass by all the podfaders that tapped out at episodes 3, 7, 10, 50, or even 100, you begin to see the opportunities that exist beyond episode 101.
Using this as a metric, you need to measure your one podcast’s longevity, growth, and success of this same idea. Measure your progress in how well you’ve progressed year-to-year, not in how many downloads you have, or even the size of your audience. By showing up each week with new content, you make your podcast new over and over again. This in turn breaths new life into your show.
Each cycle of growth and renewal gives you an endless supply of repeatable opportunities. In fact, the bigger your back catalog of episodes, the greater the chance of being discovered by a listener. However, your podcast lifecycle can only be nurtured by you. Your the only one who can give your listeners a chance to hear you burp.
So the next time you want to beat yourself up because you’re podcast downloads are low, remember to give yourself enough time to let your creation stand on its own before you give up. Your podcast just might not be old enough yet to run.
Now go record something!Tags: podcast lifecycle, Podcasting, Podcasting Strategy
Last modified: July 1, 2021