Planning your podcast is absolutely vital if you want it to succeed. Of course you've got to understand what success looks like for your podcast first. But we covered that in last week's episode so if you haven't listened to it you might want to go back and catch up.
Of course I'm going to talk about my podcast planning tool kit at this point. But it is how I plan my podcasts. The tool kit is my place to get down all my thoughts, and the processes I use to make sure nothing is missed out when it comes to planning my podcast and the episodes.
It's a tool to understand your podcast and plan your episodes so you can get the best from it. It's not just a pdf you also get a masterclass from me. Yes you get to see my face AND I even put make-up on for you.
That's some level of effort from me. It's £39 and you can find it here
Here's my planning method - I'll be honest there's a lot of ground work I ask you to do so if you want to just dive in and start recording your podcast you might think you can skip this. But the ground work is so important. You wouldn't build a house without decent foundations - what would Kevin McCloud from Grand Designs say about that? (Yes I've been watching the telly again this week!) So why would you start a podcast without solid foundations? The effort you put in now will be rewarded.
Build Your Foundations
Last week I told you the 5 questions you want to ask and indeed answer before you start your podcast. There's loads on why those questions are important in that episode so rather than go through them all again I'll just sum up what they are
Why are you doing a podcast
Who is your podcast for
What does success look like for you
How much time do you have to commit to your podcast
How much money do you have to commit to your podcast
The first three are the ones you need to bring in to your building foundations stage of planning. Your why, your who and your definition of success for your podcast. These are all very personal questions and what is the right answer for you might be the wrong answer for somebody else. I work with people who use podcasts as an "in" to reach people they want to connect with, I work with clients who use their podcast to build their email list and equally I work with clients who just want to spread the message of their charity. As long as you understand why you are doing your podcast and who the podcast is talking to you will be on the way to success.
We're not moving from the foundation stage just yet because there's a few other things you can do before you've even picked up your microphone.
Have a think about the format of your podcast. Will it just be you? Will you have a co-host? Will you have guests? And while you're thinking about that I want you to think about why you've made that decision and what it means for your podcast and your podcast audience. You want to be adding value. How will you do that on your own, with a co-host or with a guest? The answer will depend on your why, your who and your success definition.
And finally you want to be thinking about your publishing schedule. How often do you want to publish your podcast episodes? Will you do it in a series or season if you must, or will it be ongoing with no breaks? How will you deal with holidays if you're doing an ongoing podcast? (we will go on holidays again. I promise.) If you're doing a series will you still release them weekly or do a series drop so people can binge all in one go. In the same way I binge everything on Netflix. S-Town from the same people who brought us Serial and This American Life did the whole series drop. I think it's an interesting way of doing it. And a great way to get yourself in the charts - if people are devouring your content in one go then you'll get a lot of listens over a short amount of time.
These are your foundations. And also where the building analogy ends because I don't know the process of building anything more than you want a foundation, some walls and a roof and windows. I'll stick to the podcast stuff.
Create a Podcast Brief
This might feel like an unnecessary step but after doing all the work in the foundation stage it makes sense to pull it all together in to a document and have it to hand. I constantly refer back to my podcast brief to make sure I'm on track with my podcast planning, when I do my 90 day review and also I would use it as a base for my media kit if I was asking guests to come on.
You don't have to publish your podcast brief anywhere but it's a great resource to have to hand.
I recommend your podcast brief covers these areas. None of your answers need to be an essay. In most cases two or three sentences is more than enough.
Your mission statement - in a couple of sentences sum up what your podcast is about and how it does what you say it's going to do. It's an executive summary. My mission statement for this podcast is "Turn Up The Volume On Your Voice is a podcast about podcasting. It offers guidance, advice and resources to help people start and keep on podcasting. It is a friendly listen.
Host or hosts - I love this bit because I like to talk about myself in the third person. Here is where you explain who is hosting the podcast. It's a bit like the introduction you give to people at networking meetings.
Format - Are you doing solo monologues, round table discussions, news style documentary, interviews? Is your podcast ongoing or series
Who is your listener - It's for business owners and entrepreneurs who want to use podcasting to boost their visibility, brand and sales but who don't quite know how to do this.
What problem you are solving for the listener - This is in general, the overarching reason for doing the podcast. And remember boredom is a problem too so you want to be interesting. So for this podcast the problem I'm solving is getting business owners and entrepreneurs podcasting by giving advice, tips and removing barriers.
How long the podcast will be - pretty obvious how to answer this.
Work out your themes
By now you're probably pretty excited about getting going with your podcast planning. You've got your foundations, you've grown that into your podcast brief (maybe that's your walls if I want to keep the building analogy going...) now you need to figure out your big themes, your big topics. Oh sod it, your rooms.
You want to think of your podcast in the same way as TV producers think of TV series, authors think of book series (JK Rowling and Harry Potter), film makers think of film franchises and bands or performers think of song writing.
Stick with me on this. When you pick up a book, listen to an album, watch a programme on the telly or even listen to the radio - everything is coming to you in an order. You're hearing and seeing things in a certain way to take you on a journey.
And that's what you need to do with your podcast.
Let's take The Crown for example. We've had 4 seasons of The Crown so far. Ultimately it is a story of Elizabeth the second told through her role as Queen.
Each of the seasons tells a different part of the big story - Queen Elizabeth's life - but each season has its own theme or story arc running too.
In season 1 the focus was on becoming queen and Princess Margaret's relationship with Peter Townsend
Season 2 is told through the story of Queen Elizabeth's marriage
Season 3 has the theme of a changing world and where the Royal Family fits in to it
Season 4 is all about Prince Charles and Diana.
And in each of the seasons each of the 10 episodes has a story to tell within it.
So you have the big overarching story arc going across the whole thing, the story arcs of each season and the story arcs of each episode.
How does this work for your podcast?
Your big overarching story arc is your mission statement, your one or two sentence sum up of your podcast. If The Crown was a podcast its mission statement would be to tell the story of Queen Elizabeth.
We've nailed this bit so now we need to nail our next level story arc - our themes.
At this point I want to explain that whilst The Crown is in seasons this also works for ongoing dramas (or soaps). They will have short, medium and long term story arcs that they are working on. Usually these climax with peak points such as Christmas or anniversaries when they want the big numbers.
So having themes through your ongoing podcast will work for you, so keep sticking with me as I explain a bit more.
To come up with your themes I want you to spend 10 minutes writing down all the thoughts, topics, questions you get asked, in fact any and every little thing to do with what you want to talk about on your podcast. What I tend to do with this is write them all on separate post it notes or bits of paper.
Once you've got those down on paper I want you to group them together in themes. You might have noticed that my theme for the past few (and next few) weeks is starting a podcast. Your themes will be down to what it is you cover. But you will notice that naturally questions, thoughts etc belong under certain umbrellas.
Once you've grouped them together under their umbrellas or in their rooms (I haven't forgotten our podcast house or should it be a castle? ) you want to arrange them in to an order that makes sense. That flows from beginning to end.
Yes our episodes are our pieces of furniture!
But seriously you want your episodes to be like chapters in a book, songs on a really good concept album from the 1970s or a really good TV series. You want to keep people's ears on your content for as long as possible - that way you'll build your audience, you'll share your knowledge and you'll build your reputation and all the other things you want to happen from your podcast. And by creating episodes that flow from one to the next you are inviting your audience to stay with you, or indeed come back next week whether that's in a series sense or in an ongoing sense.
Understand what you want from every episode
Your podcast castle is built, your furniture is in place so it's job done? No. Sorry not yet. You've got to now plan those episodes because as much as the furniture looks nice and you're not bashing in to it, you actually need it to be comfy and functional.
To make sure you get the best for your audience from every episode you need to understand what you want from every episode.
To do this I want you to have an objective written down and in place for each of your episodes, a call to action for each episode and the key takeaway that your audience should have.
Doing this keeps you on focus. You should be referring back to your mission and your current or series theme. Does that episode serve your series theme? Does it serve your mission statement? Yes? Brilliant you crack on and get that episode recorded, edited etc. It doesn't? Then you need to tweak, change or maybe throw away altogether. Yes I am that harsh.
Review your plans
Plans are great. But I don't want you to be blindly following a plan without checking in on the plan.
I've got all my podcast episodes planned out until the end of March. But given how much has happened in January alone this year I am prepared for these to not work out the way I think they will.
It's certainly one of my biggest lessons from last year being more adaptable.
At the beginning of February I will get my planner and just make sure that the tone and messaging of my podcasts is still right. And I'll do the same at the beginning of March too.
Last year at the beginning of lockdown I did a week of special episodes about podcasting in a pandemic. I certainly didn't have those in my plan this time last year.
But it doesn't have to be a global pandemic that changes your plans. It could be feedback from listeners, something a client says or asks you or a new trend that you want to address or discuss.
I also enjoy a 90 day review. 90 days, three months or a quarter - whatever you want to call it - it's a decent amount of time to assess how something is going.
So every 90 days I go through my analytics, the responses I've had from listeners, on social media. I also listen back to a couple of episodes. Either random ones I select or if one got reaction that I wasn't expecting I'll listen back to that one to try and identify why.
I also look at whether my mission statement needs changing or adapting. And sometimes it does. As you grow and develop as a podcaster and as a business you should be growing and adapting your mission statement.
That's my guide to planning your podcast. I'd love to know how you plan yours. Or if you're going to have a go using the guide.
Don't forget if you want a bit of extra planning help my podcast toolkit is waiting for you here
I'm doing a weekly room on Clubhouse it's on Wednesdays at 6pm and we'll be chatting all things around the week's podcast episode. Come follow me on Clubhouse and you can hang out with me and ask me all the questions you want.
I'm @ charlottefoster