When I first entered the podcasting world with Footnoting History back in 2013, there were a lot of things I was well aware that I didn't know: audio editing, pacing, the nuances of social media marketing, etc. But podcasting is built on so much more than technical know-how and cultivated talent. Over the years I have been taught lessons time and time again that I never expected. Here, in a brief list, are some of them. I hope by reading the lessons I've learned, you will either avoid learning them the hard way yourself or be happy to discover you are not alone.
If you have learned any unexpected lessons from your time in the podcasting trenches, feel free to share them in the comments section below - or to tweet them to me @mynameispurpose. I'd love to hear from you.
Popularity rankings on websites and apps (like Apple Podcasts, etc.) don't mean as much as you'd like them to. When Footnoting History began we had numerous times where we appeared in the Top 10 History Podcasts on iTunes (Apple Podcasts wasn't a thing back in 2013). As time marched on, our numbers of subscribers and individual listeners grew and grew. But other podcasts were also created. Many of them were created by commercial producers and/or celebrities. Despite our growth, we fell down in the rankings. Soon, I realized: it doesn't matter. Some sites/apps don't release how they even calculate their rankings, so why should we trust them? And how can an indie podcast compare to a commercial one created by a corporation? As long as we continue growing, I am happy. Getting hung up on rankings does nothing to help you remain level-headed.
Someone will hate you, and that's okay. It took eight years before someone left a review of Footnoting History that explicitly stated I (well, my speaking voice) was the reason they were unsubscribing. To me, this meant I'd made it. If you're a podcaster, like it or not, you are a public figure. All public figures have people who love them and people who hate them. I always knew this to be true and I expected that I would be told this, but I didn't expect to be amused when it happened. I've already talked about how no one likes a bad review, but with this one I learned that it doesn't always have to be upsetting. It made me feel entertained that someone disliked the sound of my voice so much that they needed to tell me. Reminding yourself that you can't make everyone happy (and, even, thinking about the public figures you can't stand) will go a long way to helping you find those harsh moments less awful.
People really are listening. I used to look at our numbers and think they were fun, but it didn't truly grasp what it meant until people started directly telling me that they listened. It's easy to feel disconnected from your listeners, because the vast majority of them might never contact you at all, but when you do get contact - negative, like I mentioned above, or positive - it will really hit home that someone (or many someones!) is out there and they are listening and you are being heard.
You will not like every other podcaster you come across - you might even loathe some of them. The podcasting community grows every day. Many people in it are delightful, positive, supportive, and fun. Some are decidedly not. They might be users or do bad scholarship or have ego issues. We all enter this world with varying degrees of rose-colored glasses on, but eventually they come off and - guess what - you won't love everyone, and you don't have to. Better yet, you get to choose how you interact with them, if you do at all. Sure, sometimes you have to be professionally polite because interactions with certain people who cover similar things to you will be inevitable. But you don't have to like everyone, you shouldn't be expected to, and since you are your own boss, you can choose not to interact with someone if doing so results in a negative experience.
Your goals will change. I didn't have too many goals when Footnoting History started. I wanted a place to show off my research and talk about things I loved. Then I wanted to establish myself as good at what I do. Then I wanted to hit certain benchmarks for our statistics. Then I wanted to write about podcasting. Then I wanted to increase accessibility, and sell merch, and try a series of episodes instead of a one-off. Who you are as a podcaster and what you want from the medium will change. That's okay. Growth is good. And if the medium stops serving you, you don't have to stay with it. Your outside goals may change, too. That's okay.
You know more than you think you do, and you are capable of learning what you don't. I thought I had no idea what a podcast was or what people would want to hear, but listeners came and I was told when people liked what I did. I realized, hey, I can do this. Impostor Syndrome is real. It will pop up every so often. But I promise, you know more about what you're doing than you realize now. As to that second point: I hate audio editing. I never had any interest in doing it. Then a time came when I had to. Was I perfect at it? No. Did I learn to do it so the episode got out on time? I did. I had never created a newsletter before, or used Pinterest, or captioned a YouTube video. But now I do them all. You can, too. You may make mistakes along the way, but that's fine, too. You'll get there. You can learn whatever you need to learn to make it work.
You cannot make someone change who doesn't want to do it. This is a lesson that sometimes I have still not learned perfectly. We all want to believe the people we work with are doing their best, are considerate, are pulling their weight, and care about the process and the product to the same level that we do. This will not always be the case. If you are working with others, you may discover this faster than if you don't, but there will be times - since few podcasters are truly in a vacuum - where others disappoint you. You will have to find your people, but when you find them it will be good.
Your work will make someone's day. Remember how I said people are listening but you may not know it? One or more of them is really looking forward to your newest episode or to digging into your archive. I didn't think this was true until people started telling me, but since they won't always tell you, I'm here to do it: I believe that everything put out in the world has someone who absolutely loves it and declares it their favorite thing, and that means listening to your podcast is someone's favorite way to spend their time. Keep creating. Someone can't wait for it.