I never wanted to get into podcasting as a business. Yet it's been my only meaningful income stream for four years. How did that happen?
I won’t bore you with my 16-year long podcasting journey. But I will offer up two pieces of advice for you, assuming you’ve decided to try to carve out your own slice of the get-paid-to-podcast pie. After all, you’ve developed some valuable podcasting skills that others - individuals or companies - might be willing to pay for. And they might as well pay you, right?
The Value Equation vs Investing In Opportunities
The value equation - don’t worry, no math is involved - is simple: you provide the valuable podcasting skills you’ve developed, and people give you stored value items - money - in return. Most people - me included - start out charging a low rate and then steadily increase that rate. Not only to keep pace with cost of living changes but also because our increased experience lets us charge a premium.
But that’s not the only way to work. You can, if you choose, invest in an opportunity to work with someone on their podcast. An investment you’d like to see pay off in the future for more than you would have received in the classic value question. You won’t get paid (either fully or partially) right now, but you’re betting on the value of your efforts paying off (either fully or exponentially) in the future.
Without fail, I triage every inbound business contact through this binary lens. Is this likely to be purely a business transaction? Or is there a larger opportunity on the horizon I want to shoot for?
Contrary to what self-described life coaches or business gurus will tell you, this isn’t a pass/fail decision flow. I’m quite happy to take purely business transactions and provide quality podcasting services to my happy clients in exchange for their money. I’m equally as happy to provide similar (if not the same) services as an investment toward an opportunity that might develop in the future. I don’t begrudge my time spent on one vs the other. So long as I’m working with the right clients, that is.
The Wrong Clients Eventually Bring Bad Money
With the gift of hindsight, I can confidently say that out of all the clients I’ve lost or fired, none have been a surprise. I knew at the very beginning of the relationship that I probably shouldn't take the job. But I did, always because I needed the money. Or wanted the money. Which isn’t quite the same thing, but that’s my problem.
Sometimes, especially when you’ve just hung out your podcaster-for-hire shingle or in challenging times like these (a phrase we’re all quite sick of now and placed here for cringe-factor only), you take jobs you can do but don’t really want to do. You've got to make ends meet. You've got to do what you've got to do. There’s no shame in that. So don’t beat your self up when the money starts looking less attractive. Fire them (when you can) and move on.
The Right Clients May Never Have Good Money
For every “well that worked out nice!” story I have, there are two or three that never panned out. That’s why the biggest rule in investment (or gambling) is to never gamble (or invest) more money than you can afford to lose.
Often times, you’re perfect for a podcasting project. Or there’s a perfect podcasting project you really want to work with, but there’s no (or very little) budget for your services. I am very likely to say yes to those opportunities, even though I know most of them probably won’t pan out. As with the bad-money clients before, I don’t lament the hours lost. Sunk costs are just that. Focus on what you learned from the deal that didn’t pan out and move on.
Unexpected Clients With Unexpected Money Come From Unexpected Directions
On occasion, truly uncertain opportunities present themselves. Sometimes you catch wind of... something that’s hard to put your finger on. You probably don’t know enough about the project to make that initial triage decision. Maybe the client is way too big for you, but they still want to talk. Maybe you can’t figure out the podcasting angle, but they’re terribly excited about an audience you’ve never considered and know nothing about. Or maybe you’re invited to a lunch meeting (if we ever have lunch meetings again) because someone you respect wants you to meet with someone else they respect sight-unseen.
My default response when these unusual circumstances appear: I take the meeting. I reply to the email asking to set up a meeting to talk further. I go to the lunch, prepared to pick up the check if it goes really, really well.
I’m quite good at sizing up opportunities. But I know the world beyond my bubble of influence is filled with opportunities I can’t see. When a window beyond my immediate world opens, I have to look through it. Don’t you?
Things You Don’t Ever Want To Do vs Things You Don’t Want To Do Forever
According to Robert A. Heinlein, specialization is for insects. I might specialize in podcasting, but I’m a generalist, with a broad set of skills that enable me to plug into almost any podcasting project at any stage. However, there are certain aspects of the podcasting process I can do, but really don’t want to do.
I’ve turned down podcasting clients who only want my firm to manage their social media properties. Yes, I know how to do that and have built out large teams to provide those types of services for very large organizations. Which is why I can confidently state that social media management for podcasts, while something I can do, is something I don’t ever want to do.
In contrast, there are lots of podcasting services I’m offering to clients that I don’t want to do forever. Take post-production work for example. I used to take a lot of post-production work when I was just starting out. And while my firm obviously provides post-production work as part of our services, we no longer offer post-production as an ala carte service.
But fair warning: Be prepared to be very wrong about those convictions.
When I got into podcasting-as-my-business in 2016, podcast advertising was squarely in my Don't Ever Want To Do category. How naive of me. Fast forward to today, and my firm is handling a modest-but=growing book of business managing podcast advertising, either buying ads or selling them. As it turns out, it’s fun, engaging, and meaningful work that we’re happy to provide.
Podcasting Work That Is Important But Not Urgent
Business planners love their 2x2 grids, and one that charts urgency on one axis and importance on the other is quite common. Here’s a rather colorful version I grabbed from an image search (with credit and a dofollow link provided because I’m a good citizen of the web):
I try to spend as much of my time as possible in the upper right corner, working on things that are important but not urgent. Of course, I can’t spend all of my time there. If I neglect the important things that are also urgent, I’m no longer in the podcasting-as-a-business business.
Nota bene: I know my privilege is showing here. And I know that not everybody is able to focus on the area of the matrix where opportunities come from. If you're struggling to make ends meet, you gotta do what you gotta do so you can pay the rent and keep food on the table. Your situation may look quite different than mine. But providing business/life coach services remains squarely in my Do Not Want To Ever Do box, so...
Betting On The Future
Though it’s been a struggle these last few months, I almost always bet on the future. And even if I don’t, I'm almost always thinking about the future. If that means I don't get paid to work on a really cool project I feel has the opportunity to become something I want to be involved with, I'm going to take that bet.
Maybe you will as well.
I'm also betting you’ll go to BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra, and sign up to send a virtual coffee. It's an inexpensive way to show your appreciation for the crazy-but-hopefully-though-provoking ideas about podcasting I bring to you on a daily basis.
Do you know someone who is considering getting into the paid-to-podcast business? Send them the link to this episode with a personal note, perhaps encouraging them to not neglect the important-but-not-urgent quadrant to help their business grow in unexpected areas.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.