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What separates high-traffic podcasts from the rest?

What separates podcasts that get 20,000 downloads per episode from the ones that get 20 downloads per episode? Well, it can’t be the goal, because if it was, we’d all be in Apple’s top 100. What if, instead, it was just about putting one episode in front of the other?

Progress isn’t linear

Change can take years before it happens all at once. We achieve change by setting an intention, then building a system around it.

We can’t fatten a chicken by constantly weighing it. So, try not to focus on goals and outcomes, and instead focus on outputs.

Identity beats consistency

Think about replacing “I need to put out a episode every week” with “I have a weekly podcast”. Once you begin to identify your podcast as having a weekly (or fortnightly) cadence, missing an episode becomes harder. This isn’t about piling pressure on ourselves, but changing our mindset from one where we’re trying to do something, to one where we already identify as doing that thing.

Goals don’t create success

The successful podcaster with 20k downloads per episode has the same goal as the podcaster who’s scrabbling for every download. If that’s true, the goal cannot be what denotes success. Instead it’s the systems we put in place – it’s doing the work: putting out each episode and asking ourselves “how much have we served our audience with this one?” And then “Can we do that 1% better next time?”


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What separates podcasts. The get 20,000 downloads per episode from the ones that get 20 downloads per episode. Well, it can't be the goal because if it was, we'd all be in Apple's top 100. What if instead it was just about putting one episode in front of the other?
Welcome to the Podcast Owner's Manual, your handy guide to taking care of your podcast and yourself. I'm Mark, your podcast, producer, consultant and coach. And today we're talking about habits. I'm just in the process of digging into James Clear's book about four years late, but I'm getting there, uh, Atomic Habits And I was off on a walk today. And. There are so many things in just the first few chapters that apply to the work that we do, that I wanted to have a chat with you about it.
Now I'm a bit nasal because I am uh, about two weeks into COVID and I think I'm at the tail end of it now. Uh, so I'm still just a little bit bummed up sounding, but today was the first day that I ventured outside. and, And went for a walk, after really a long period of. Not. Moving. Not always making the best decisions.
So I'm going to mix a little bit of the personal in with the, in, with the worky stuff here. In that for the last year I've been focusing so much. I say, focusing. It's not really fair. I've been neglecting things that aren't really work. And that has been at the detriment of other aspects of my life. And if this is stuff we all know, right? And I'm interested in the confluence of things. When things come together, when events collide, or when you start getting these sort of messages from the universe that make you go, huh? Okay. Ah, maybe I should think about this. And it just so happened that I was sat. I just had the idea this morning, drinking my morning, cup of coffee. Let's sit on my iPad mini for a bit and have a look through my list of articles that I've been saving. And one came up and it mentioned James Claire's book. And I thought, you know what? That's a book I think would be good for me right now.
And it pertains really to two of my shows that I run under the Origin Beaumont, Origin being my little company here. Got they show the Podcast Owner's Manual and Ear Brain Heart. And. My publishing schedule has been somewhat erratic. This one, I sort of recently rebooted and retooled and I was thoroughly ready to be like Yeah, I'm going to ship every week. That's what I'm going to do. Every Friday. I'm actually going to move it to Thursday for reasons, but have, every Friday I'm going to ship. And I was even in my hotel in Bradford, which I think is the source, not the hotel, but the trip up was the source of the Rona for me. I was in the hotel. I brought my little microphone and I recorded and the Uh, events conspired against me. And I, I wasn't really able to get that episode out in my hotel room, on my little laptop.
But I at least had the desire and the plan to. And then I got COVID and so I missed a week and blah. And I think today I'm not here to berate you about not shipping because I know. Like, I get it. I know. A podcast can't always be our top priority. But there is something in the definition of, I think definitions are really important to hear how we define ourselves, how we identify.
So for example, I've I'm making a decision at the moment to, it's a dramatically, but to to, to change my diet for the significant benefit to, to, to my significant benefit. Make big changes. Without, making them sustainable as well, making them manageable and you know, that's, uh, that's always a line to walk, isn't it? But that has to start or rather it gets a better start if I say I am someone who eats healthily. I am someone who makes good decisions. That then helps me inform when I'm picking what food I'm going to buy for the week. Is a bag of oven chips what a healthy person would eat? No, let's be honest, it isn't, right? So by starting with that idea of identity, it helps make decisions.
So bringing this to podcasting, my most long running and the show that I sort of was proudest of, wasn't always easy, but it was, I was really proud of the show called beware of the leopard. And we do occasionally we get back together and we make sort of reuniting episodes. And little, you know, little, little specials a few times a year. But it was a weekly show and I made that decision right from the get go from 2017. Now we, we had to eventually go with the idea of seasons and we took some time off, more time than I would have liked, but when we were on, we were on and we did not miss a week. If I don't make that decision with a show like Ear Brain Heart or the Podcast Owner's Manual, if I say. I'm looking after myself, I'm practicing self care and I get episodes out when I get them out. That's okay. That feels like psychologically. That's a healthy decision. We're not putting too much pressure on ourselves. That's absolutely great. But what it then means is you miss one and it's then very easy to miss another. And James Clear talks about this.
So the idea of atomic habits, the idea of making small changes, small incremental changes is this works both ways. So a good one, good action, making something 1% better, kind Builds on itself, right? You make something 1% better than it was last time. And then before you know, it, I can't do the math the way they accumulate, but you know what I mean? Like, after a few iterations of doing that, you've made something exponentially percent better than it was.
But the same is true the other way around. If, for example, I, going back to food, if I haven't made that identity decision and I say Saturday night, yeah, I'm going to eat. Some cakes and stuff cuz we're having a Halloween party and we're raising money for Macmillan so we're doing a little bake sale. You know, If I go and eat some cake and drink some beer and eat some chili, whatever, that's all fine. And then the next day, if I say That didn't seem to move the needle. I don't feel particularly bad after that. I don't feel particularly stodgy. I'll probably be all right to have another cupcake. And then the next day, and then the next day and the next day. Because we don't notice these incremental changes.
And that is the case when we're building habits. And that's why it can be so hard is because we don't see these incremental changes. We don't see what happens when we just make that small change. He has a phrase that I really like, which is Change can take years before it happens all at once.
So, how do we actually go about moving towards a successful podcast, however, we want to define success?
Well, It starts with setting a desired action and then building a system. Rather than a desired outcome. It's the desired what, what is it that you want to. And I think the best thing is really to have a podcast where you can say Each episode I served my audience. we've got a little dial. Where are we turning that dial from left to right? Are we somewhere in the middle? Are we, or are we quite high? And I think if you're anywhere from the mid of that dial all the way to the to turning it to the right you're in good territory. And I don't think it's a disaster. If you if you're turning that dial to the left and it's like, Oh, I haven't really served. Maybe I've served myself a little bit more than I have my audience this time. And that happens right? That can happen a lot sometimes. It's a combination of, I've just got to get an episode out or it's, that was an interview where maybe the person who got served the most was the interviewee, not necessarily that can happen a fair amount. That's the thing that does. That does happen when you're on that weekly treadmill, you don't necessarily get the chance to do a big pre interview with interviewees to figure out like, are you going to be the best fit for this, for this audience? And I think, I think that's okay. But if we're generally heading in the right direction, if we're generally trying to move that needle towards the right to nudge it to the right, so that we are serving our audience, as much as we can, then that's a really good intention to set.
So rather than setting the intention of I'm going to get 20,000 downloads per episode, set the intention of I'm really going to serve my audience. And I'm going to evaluate. Now part of this, I think is evaluating, honestly evaluating that means listening back to your audio, to the finished product a few days later. Maybe even, you know, asynchronously, like you could give it a few weeks. And actually sort of evaluate, Okay, where are we on the, on that dial on that sort of, on the thermostat? Where can I honestly place this in terms of how we've served my audience?
And this brings us then to pacts versus smart goals. So I've written about this before. You all know about. Smart goals, right? That whole, I can't even remember the acronym now cuz it's just, it's a little bit too shirt and tie for me, right? What I prefer is setting a pact, which is another acronym and it's purposeful, actionable, continuous and trackable. So purposeful is aligned with our, with our purpose. It's making sure that we set an intention that is that actually fulfills what we said we want to do and why we're doing what we want to do.
The next is actionable. So is it actually something that is within our power to change. It's all very well having a measurable goal, but is this something we can actually directly influence? We can directly influence how many downloads we get cause we can buy them. If something is that gameable, is it really that useful as a something to measure?
Instead, we're looking at actionable, things that are actionable. What is within our power to change? You know, we can only do our best and then it's right over time.
Next is continuous. It's back to iteration. It's focusing on putting one episode in front of the other. It is an iterative process, or as I'm beginning to think about it now it's developing this as a habit. It's just, it's a thing that we do. We put out episodes every week, every two weeks. Because that's what we do.
And then the last one is trackable. Did you put out an episode this week, this fortnight? That's something you can track again, rather than you can track the number of downloads, but you cannot directly influence the number of legitimate downloads. So find things that you can track. What you're tracking here is your outputs, rather than the outcome that you want to achieve, track what you can directly do.
I kind of want a w with all of this, I kind of want to address consistency because I feel like for me, I might be moving beyond that broad idea of consistency. And I flirted back and forth with this. I think over the last year or so as, as the idea of self care and looking after ourselves has become more interesting for me to talk about and useful and part of the lexicon that I actually want to deliver. Because what people in my field often preach is, and I've done the same is, If you say you are going to make a weekly podcast and you make a weekly podcast. If you say you're making a fortnightly pop, it's that consistency of output, but it's also, we're thinking about consistency of quality and all those kinds of things as well. And I still talk about showing up consistently as a way of building trust, because we want people to kind of rely on us to a degree. We want to be there. We want to be of service. Which means consistently people being able to rely on you to know. Oh yeah, I know that there's going to be an episode soon. And if there isn't it's because they've told us. It's because we said that's the end of the season, or I need to take a break for a couple of weeks and I'll be back on this day or all around this day. And, and that all still works.
So for me, it kind of brings back to that identity question or that identity thought right at the beginning is, Rather than say. My plan is, or I need to, because Mark's told me consistency is important, I've got to put out a podcast. I've got to put out an episode every week, instead of thinking about it as well. I have a weekly podcast. So what is going in this week? Given that I have a weekly podcast, what do I put in this week? And it's not about us building pressure, putting pressure on ourselves, and say, oh, woe Meet your needs to get this done. It's more about saying, I identify as someone who does this. Because our actions become habits and our habits become our destiny. I think I'm shortcutting it there, but there's a phrase that, Around that you may already be familiar with, but it's essentially it's Thoughts lead to actions, actions lead to habits, and then those, those habits become just the things that we
Going back to my original question. The successful podcaster with 20,000 downloads per episode. And I'm really thinking here about indie podcasters. So, they have the same goal as the podcaster who's scrambling for every download. If we take both podcasters assuming that they both have the goal of, of reaching a monetized double amount of audience, let's say, that can't be the thing that differentiates one podcast from another. It can't be the goal, because if it were, we'd all be at that goal, right? It's putting a system in place, and then executing on that system. It's getting out of our way as much as possible, making it as easy as possible to put one episode in front of the other so that it becomes that habit. That's what gets us to where we need to be. We don't fatten the chicken by constantly weighing it as a phrase that I tend to use quite a lot, actually, especially with people who are interested in stats.
And I think a related point It's also about pride. Recently I've started styling my hair. Like I got a good hair cut. I've always been like, what's the simplest way that I can get out of this interaction and not have to come back for another month, and not have to do a load of maintenance? And what that ends up with me looking like is kind of a Twitch streamer. You know, I kind of look like every other podcaster who has a short haircut and a beard because it's fairly easy to maintain. But when I decided I'm going to get some photos taken and then I'm going to be given some talks, how can I with the face that I have, with a big old head that I have, how can I look like someone who is as friendly as he would like to think people think he is, rather than someone who perhaps looks like he might sit on you or steal your handbag, or argue with you about the merits of the Xbox versus the PS4. What I ended up with is a decent haircut, which I now want to maintain. I now want to, every day I get up and I do the little swish. I do the little thing to, to give myself a little sort of quiff at the, at the front there.
And I think the same can apply to our work. And, but the same does apply for me again. I think about Ear Brain Heart my other show. There's been a couple of episodes where I am so proud of them and I'm so proud of what the show is. And then I'll look at the website and I go, that's gorgeous. That looks lovely. All of this, like the show notes are good and the links there and the transcript, like it's all really good stuff. I can be proud of that. And that means that each time I show up to record, to edit, I've got a standard that I want to maintain. I'm thinking about that bar that I've set for myself. Not that it's been intrinsically set, not that set by some other, I'm not comparing myself to any other program. I'm going you know, How can I make this episode as good as like episode number eight or whatever it was that I was just really proud of.
I want to quickly touch on shipping. Uh, Because I, I did mention that. So. Seth Godin. His book, The Practice which I started reading, I think earlier this year. He has this idea of merely shipping, which doesn't mean just do it in, in the sense of don't think about it or. Don't worry about it. You know, It doesn't have to be good. Like it's a more just, all we're asking you to do is merely put an episode out. That's all we're asking of you. That's my interpretation, right? That's my reading of it. When he says merely ship, it means all we're asking of you is to pop out an episode. For your benefit as much as anyone else's because it's about building this habit. It's about building that shipping habit again as, as, Seth calls it.
And we can only build that shipping habit by continually doing it. And I think by having that intention, setting out right from the beginning, I put out a weekly podcast, I put out a fortnightly podcast. So given that that is the case. What's going in this week?
And then there's one last little I want to leave you with, which is on imposter syndrome, because I, I th I think it relates to what we're talking about here.
We can tell ourselves. I'm not the type of person who has a podcast that is successful. I'm not the type of person who has a, a chart topping podcast who gets 20,000 downloads. But I'm just not that I'm just not that person. Not about with you want it, it's more just, I can't have that because I'm just not the person who gets that. And that's true. You're not. But why is that? And these are these conversations that um, talked about Ear Brain Heart that is going to be an episode 13, just in a couple of weeks time. It's so obvious. But when I was told this. Kind of. Blew the back of my head off a little bit. Like. Well, No, you're not until you start working towards it, until you do it. You can't be the type of person who gets to give a TEDx talk until or unless you've done some work towards it.
If that's the sort of presupposition under which you're working, you're not going to succeed. Or you're less likely to succeed. You might succeed, by, by dent of luck or just sheer bloody mindedness. But if you tell yourself I'm not the type of person who gets this thing, Yeah, you're not. Because you have to actually get up every day and do the work that is involved in getting to that point. So if I look at TEDx as an example, like that might be as simple as spending 20 minutes every week writing and refining a really good talk. And just doing that for just 20 minutes a week until it's really good.
But if you go with the idea of I'm not the sort of person who's a TEDx, who gets to do TEDx talks. No, you're not. And you won't be until you do it. You won't be until you do a TEDx talk. Then you will be the type of person who gives a TEDx talk. But you only get there by actually doing the work to get there. And the only thing that's stopping you from doing the work is that limiting belief. I'm not saying it's the only thing. Again, like that danger of if you want it hard enough. I'm not saying that, but I am saying that if you don't get up and do you know, 20 minutes of work to hone your talk so that you can get on a, uh, stand on that tiny red dot, if you don't do that then yeah, you're probably not going to be a TEDx speaker.
So do check out episode 13 of Ear Brain Heart when it comes out, if you want to subscribe to it now, follow the show, earbrainheart.com. Look out for episode 13 with Robbie Swale.
And if there's anything here that you and I have a chat about you know how to get in touch with me. My email address is mark@origin.fm. Always happy to have a chat about this. Until next time then, until we speak again, take very good care of yourself and your podcast. And you'll find more episodes and notes and lots of other things over at podcastownersmanual.com. See you next week, because this is a weekly podcast.
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