Welcome back to The Copyblogger Podcast, and this week Darrell Vesterfelt speaks with podcasting expert Tara McMullin about the ins and outs of podcast production for content marketers.
In this week’s conversation, Darrell and Tara dive into what you should be talking about on your podcast, and how you can use content strategy to drive business growth.
In this episode, Darrell and Tara talked about:
- How Tara got into podcasting
- The importance of pivoting for podcasters
- How to decide what content resonates most with your audience
- Why you need to start your podcast content strategy with the right questions
- How to use your value proposition to determine the premise of your show
- Why the positioning of your podcast is so critical to discovery
- Suggestions to overcome analysis paralysis
- And much, much more!
The Show Notes
- Tara’s Website
- Tara on twitter
- Tara’s Podcast
- Get Tara’s “Podcast Premise Worksheet” at Yellow House Media
- “The Elements of Value” – Harvard Business Review
- Darrell on Twitter
- Tim on Twitter
Read the Transcripts
Hey everybody, I’m excited to have my friend, Tara McMullin on the Copy Blogger podcast today, to talk about her four and a half years of podcasting experience, about your podcasting production company, and about how she uses her podcast to drive growth in her business.
Tara, thanks for being on the show with me today.
I am so excited to be here, thanks for having me.
So Tara, you’ve been podcasting for about four and a half years. Give me just a brief backstory on the podcast? Because it actually has a pretty interesting genesis story.
Yeah. Podcasting was something that was always really interesting to me, but the barrier to entry seemed really high. Now I know that now true, now, it wasn’t even true then, but it seemed really overwhelming and mysterious at the time.
I could see the podcast market starting to really pick up, I was enjoying podcasts more and more, and it was a game that I wanted to play. I wanted to get in on this. At the time that I made that decision, had that realization, I was doing a lot of work with a company called CreativeLive, and I have a whole catalog of video courses on their site, on everything from marketing, to hiring, to building a community. We had done a lot of work together, I had a great audience with them, super great rapport with their producers, and their marketing team.
So, I had this crazy idea. Why not see if they’ll go in on a podcast with me? Take my audience, and their audience, and what they do best, and what I do best, and put it all together in audio content. They were owning video, but they didn’t have any audio content. I thought, this is perfect. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? They’re going to say no to me.
So, I wrote the email and immediately got a response, “Oh, yeah. Let’s talk about this, this sounds really good. Can you fly to Seattle next week?”
I love it.
I was like, “Yes, absolutely.”
We co-developed the podcast initially, and just really thinking about what we wanted to cover, who we wanted to talk to, how the show could evolve over time, how it was going to help them, how it was going to help me, who would do what. It took us a couple of months to get things started and off the ground, but we launched a podcast called, Profit, Power, Pursuit, about four and a half years ago, together. I was doing the interviews, and mostly in charge of the creative vision behind it. Then, they helped me out with the editing, and the admin side of the production, and uploading it. You know, doing all the things that we have to do, as podcasters.
That was a great partnership, and I worked really closely with them on that. But, as time went on, it became clearer and clearer, to both of us, that they didn’t really know how to leverage the podcast for their own marketing purposes. And while I felt pretty good about leveraging the podcast for my marketing purposes, I always felt like I had to be careful, like I had to be really cautious about how I used the show because we were supposed to be co-producing, and co-marketing this show together.
In April 2018, I reached out to them again, on a whim. Not on a whim, but thinking, what’s the worst that could happen? I said, “Hey guys, this doesn’t seem to be working great for you, you don’t know what to do with this. This is working okay for me, but I know I can do better. What would it take for me to take over sole ownership of the podcast?” We went back and forth a little bit, but they were incredibly generous, and in the end, basically handed everything over and said, “Good luck, it’s been amazing working with you.” I said, “Great, it’s been amazing working with you, too.”
We quickly rebranded the show to what it is today, which is called, What Works. From that moment on, I got real serious about podcasting. I loved podcasting from the moment we started the show, but having sole ownership of the show really let my strategic brain go wild, with how can we better use this for marketing purposes? How can we better use this for sales purposes? What kind of content do I really want to have on the show? What is the show really about? Those were questions I had been asking myself the whole time we were running things, but now I had a new sense of ownership and direction over it.
So the show has evolved over the last two years, but it’s continued on that same path, that we set out on, as soon as we went out on our own. That’s the briefest I think I can make that story.
Yeah, I love it. What changed about the podcast? Give me some of the nuggets here, of what checked about the podcast from what it was with CreativeLive, to your solo? How did the premise of the show change, in that period of time?
I’ve gotten lots of feedback from listeners that they love the new direction of the show. And what’s funny is that, in my mind, the direction of the show hasn’t actually changed that much. But the way we talk about it has changed, and the way we communicate the direction of the show, and the mission behind the show, and the premise behind the show has changed.
At the beginning, the premise was essentially to talk to creative business owners about how they run things, about the mindset behind their business, about what it’s like to be on the inside of the companies that they run. I talk to all sorts of different kinds of people, people with very large businesses. I guess, technically still small businesses, but very large small businesses, and people with much smaller companies. We talked about wide-ranging things. In every interview, there were a few different points that I tried to hit with everyone. That was great, and that was how we started, and it was very much, still, looking behind the scenes.
But over time, I realized that the interviews that I loved the most, the conversations that I loved the most, and the ones that I thought were the most valuable, were the ones that were really hyper targeted, the ones that we had a clear angle on, and we took a deep dive on just one thing. Over the two years that we were producing the show with CreativeLive, we started moving things in that direction, and I started getting clearer that, when I asked someone to be on the show, I was asking them to be on the show for a very specific reason. Not just because I thought they were cool, or because they had a great pitch, or because I was curious about how they did X, Y, or Z. I wanted to have that person on the show to illustrate a specific aspect of how a business could run. That was great.
That’s, essentially, the pivot point that we took, that we used to create What Works from Profit, Power, Pursuit. We kept that same idea, that the people we were going to have on the show were going to come in and do a deep dive with us on what works for them. From there, we’ve evolved the content strategy behind that, quite a bit. The premise is the same, but the way we represent that premise with our content has evolved.
Now, it’s not just who do I want to have on the show, and what do I want to talk to them about? Now we structure everything so that we produce, in four to eight episode series. This month, we’re running a series on leadership, last month we ran a series on project management, next month is on brand building. I actually source guests to talk about specific aspects of how they do what they do, within that theme. The premise has stayed very much … It’s had a very clear through line, but the sophistication behind it has evolved immensely. So that when we’re crafting our content strategy, we’re really thinking about, how can we tell a story that really delivers something new, and unique to our listeners, and not just who do we want to have on the show, if that makes sense?
Yeah, it does. I think, when people think about starting a podcast, the easiest way to get into it is just thinking of, who can I interview, and what can we talk about. What you’re doing is you’re flipping it on your head a little bit, and creating a different content strategy, which I think is really mature. I think it’s probably taken you the three and a half, four years to get to that point, to understand that this is the better way of approaching it.
But, if you’re talking to somebody who is either just starting a podcast, wanting to start a podcast, or is wanting to mature their understanding of content strategy to what you’re talking about here, give us some ideas about where to start, or how to start thinking about it in this upside-down way?
Yeah. This is where re-thinking how we approach the way a podcast fits into a business comes into play. I’ll get to how to construct the content strategy, in a second. But I think, first, it’s really important to realize that there are certain assumptions we have about podcasting, that may not be true.
One of them, and this one is an assumption that I had, literally until about January of last year, January 2019. My assumption was that my podcast was a discovery channel for me, it was the top of my sales funnel, it’s how people were going to find out about me, my company, and what we do. From there, I could move them through a sales funnel, I could get them on my email list. And then from my email list, I could them on a webinar, or I could sell directly to them, from the email list.
Last January, I really started to question that. I thought, these people are investing an hour, two hours a week in listening to this show. They’re hearing my voice, and our perspective, in their heads for hours, every month. What if they don’t need to be warmed up anymore? What if this isn’t the top of my sales funnel, what if this is actually the best sales tool that I have? I started to test that hypothesis, essentially, and realized that it was true, that yes, people can find out about us through the podcast, and it can serve that discovery function, but they don’t need to go anywhere else. If they hear an offer on the podcast, they are very likely to buy it.
That’s what brings me back to content strategy. The way we construct our content strategy, and the way we work with clients, whether they’re starting up or evolving a show that they already have, is to work backwards from what they’re selling. One of the first questions we ask is what are you selling, when are you selling it? We want to know, how does your business model work, and what kind of marketing and sales campaigns are you planning throughout the next year or so?
From there, then, we work backwards. All right, this is your product, what are the kinds of questions that are important to someone who is considering this product? What are the pain points that they have, what are the things they’ve already tried, what are the solutions that they’re looking for? How can we use that to inspire our podcast content? That’s how we draw out what the topics, and the angles for individual episodes need to be. Then from there, we can actually go and say, okay, this episode is going to be about this, this episode is going to be about that. If it’s an interview show, then we can actually go and source guests that fit those topics, or have an interesting story to tell about those topics.
I’m a huge fan of working backwards, in almost everything. I always want to start with my goal, I always want to start with where I want to end up, the destination, and then I’m going to plot my route back from that. So, while the content strategy that we use today has been this very long process of become more mature, and more sophisticated with how we approach what’s going to go on the show, it’s actually extremely accessible, too. Because it’s the kinds of things that we’ve been doing with written content, email content, video content, for forever. We just haven’t been applying it to podcasting, for the most part. I think people actually have these skills already, and they just need to think about their podcast in a different way, to be able to apply it, in a way that drives results better, through the podcast.
I love it. I think the backwards thinking, if I could give one piece of advice to every business owner, it’s the backwards thinking. Think from the end in mind, and come backwards. I love that you’ve done that for your business.
I want to drill into this a little bit. Would you be willing to peel back how you think about this, in your own business? Like, the product that you sell specifically, and then how you get to that content strategy piece? I love this in theory, but it would be super helpful if we could see exactly how it works in somebody’s business.
First I’ll say that the relationship between our podcast and our product is pretty meta, but we also create campaigns that are much more specific, too. The meta connection between the podcast and our product is that we run a membership community called The What Works Network, where our goal is to facilitate candid conversations between small business owners, things that they wouldn’t talk about anywhere else, maybe not even in Facebook Groups. Because you feel like, oh gosh, I don’t know who’s here, I don’t know who’s listening. What if I say something stupid? We want to be the place where people can say something stupid, or they can share something about what’s working in their business that they wouldn’t want to share anywhere else.
We ask those kinds of questions, we get really nitty-gritty, we get really nerdy, we talk about mindset stuff, we talk about process stuff. The value proposition behind our product is the same, then, as the value proposition behind our podcast. We think of them as different levels of service, the podcast is free, and we decide everything that happens on it, whereas with our membership community it’s not free, but you get greater control, and greater participation in the conversations that actually happen. That’s the first tie-in, is that we try and make our value proposition match as closely between the podcast and our product as possible, and we do that with our clients as well. So really thinking about, how does the value proposition and the premise of the show match up, or compliment the value proposition or premise of the product, or program, or coaching package that you’re offering? That’s the first piece of it.
Then, the second piece of it, for us, is that we sell our membership community in four enrollment periods, every year. Those enrollment periods are based around an event that we host every quarter, called our Virtual Conferences. They’re day-long, live events where our community gathers, in a Crowdcast room. I do, essentially, a series of extra interviews throughout the day, where our membership can participate in those events. They’re very fun, it’s a great conversation starter for our community, and just a great way for people to get to know each other. Those virtual conferences match up with the content that we’re covering on the podcast.
I should say too, at this point, that our editorial calendar for our community, and the editorial calendar for our podcast are one and the same. We’re actually covering the same content on both sides of the equation. So when we were talking about project management back in January on the podcast, we were talking about project management in the community as well, and it informs those two things.
But, for the virtual conference, where we’re actually going to open the doors, and try and get people to join, and try and get new members excited about this event, because we know if they’re excited about the event, if they participate in the event, they’re going to stick around, and be members for a very long time. We lead up to those events with a series of content that’s all about those events, so that when I chime in with a call-to-action in the middle of an interview, and I say, “Hey, are you loving this content on building your brand? Are you loving finding out how to tell a better story about what you do, about how to use user feedback to evolve your brand? Come join us for our Virtual Conference on brand building.” So, there’s a complete tie between the conversation I’m having on the podcast, and that behind the scenes look that we’re having of someone else’s business, and another level of content, and participation, and conversation that can happen inside of our product. The pitch feels really natural.
In terms of the planning part of that, we plan that out, actually, a year in advance. Back in October, we actually planned out all of 2020. We know what is happening every single month, both in our community and on the podcast, for this entire year. I can construct the content, then, so that each time we’re rolling into a sales period, that sales period feels like a natural extension of what we do on the podcast every week. Does that make sense?
It makes total sense. I want to dig into this idea, the value proposition of your business, and the premise of your show matching up.
My guess is that people who haven’t thought through this maybe have a hard time understanding what the value proposition of their business is, therefore having a hard time understanding the premise of their podcast. Do you have a framework to how to understand value props, and premise of a show? Like, how we can go from seeing you do this, to figuring this out for ourselves?
Yeah. There’s a resource that I use, with everyone, that I just absolutely love. The best part is it’s completely free, and all you have to do is Google for it.
So, the Harvard Business Review published this article, I don’t know how many years ago now, it is nowhere near new, called The 30 Elements of Value. It’s a study that Bane did on what makes up value propositions. What are the common elements that every value proposition has? They came up with 30 different things, and it’s arranged in almost like a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs way. It doesn’t completely match up to that, but it’s a very similar concept, where at the bottom of a pyramid, there are all these functional forms of value. Things like simplifying, making things cost less, making things more convenient, removing hassles, all those functional needs.
I’m not going to remember what ever tier is called, but as you move up the pyramid, it becomes less tangible, and a little bit more philosophical until you get to the very top of the pyramid, and I think it’s self-transcendence, is the top of the pyramid. Don’t base your value proposition on that, by the way. Whenever I’m thinking about clarifying, what is this product really about, what is this business really about, what are we promising to them, which is essentially what a value proposition is, I literally go back to this article. At least every month, I go back to this article and pull it up, whether it’s for me, or it’s for a member, or it’s in a Mastermind group that I’m facilitating. I pull this up, and start looking at these ideas of what is actually valuable.
For us, our biggest point of value is access, and that falls pretty close down to the bottom of the pyramid, of this 30 elements of value. Access is what’s most important, and that should make sense, with having a membership community, and a subscription community based business model, access is key. You’re literally paying for access. We talk about our value proposition in terms of access to candid conversations about what’s really working to run and grow a small business today, that’s our promise. With that, that’s easy to translate to the podcast, because we can do both, in both of those different areas.
For someone else, simplify is a great one. Simplify is one of the functional elements of value, it’s one that so many different businesses deliver on, or aim to deliver on. That’s another one where you might have an online course, you might have a coaching program, you might be a consultant, and a huge part of your job might be simplifying whatever it is that you do for your clients.
For instance, my bookkeepers. Bookkeeping is scary for a lot of people, it seems really complicated. A bookkeeper’s value proposition, a huge piece of that, is going to be simplifying your business finances. If a bookkeeping firm came to me and said, “Hey Tara, we want to start a podcast. What we do is really help people organize their numbers, and make it a lot less overwhelming.” Okay, great. Your value proposition is you help them simplify business finances, that’s what the podcast is going to be about as well. Every episode you do, you’re going to take something that feels complicated, and messy, and overwhelming, and you’re going to distill it down to it’s most basic pieces, so that it’s as simple as possible. By the end of that podcast episode, people are going to walk away with a better understanding of something that, initially, felt really complex to them.
Maybe you start out, and you’re only doing it with bookkeeping, but then you start to branch out. Maybe you add in a little bit of legal, and you add in a little bit of accounting, and you start to go into those tangential areas, but everything still comes back to simplifying things. Taking what is complicated, and making it a lot more simple.
You can literally do that with any of these different elements of value, to better understand the value proposition behind your business, or your product, and then translate that to the content, and the value proposition, and premise behind your podcast.
That’s great. You have an amazing article, that I’ve read through now, a few times, about the premise of the podcast, and I want to dive a little bit deeper in here. Thank you for the HBR article, we’re going to link to that in the show notes.
Talk to me about the premise, I think we understand what that means on a high level, if we just understand what the word premise means. But, you really dive deep into what it means to have a premise for a podcast. Dig in here with me a little bit?
Yeah. One thing that is different about a podcast from having a blog, or even an email newsletter, or a YouTube channel even, is that we tend to think about, what article am I going to write for my blog? What do my readers need to read from me, this week? Or, what am I going to send out in an email this week? Or, what video is going to help me rank better in the YouTube algorithm?
But, podcasts work in a really different way, they don’t work on a piece by piece basis. Because it’s a subscription based medium, you’re not so much hooking people on an individual episode, you’re hooking people on the idea behind your show, so the idea behind your show is the premise. And a blog can certainly have a premise, and I would argue a blog should have a premise. You would probably agree with me, I think. A YouTube channel should have a premise, but we don’t think of it in that term, because people will find your YouTube video just because they’ve searched for something. You are actually trying to hook them, based on a single episode. Same thing with a blog, you’re sending that over social, people are searching for it, you’re hooking them with a single episode.
But, the way discovery works with podcasting, more often than not, is that people are looking for recommendations for shows, or they’re browsing through shows. So you land on a new show, and you see a description of that show, and based on that description, or at least informed in a huge way by that description, you decide whether you’re going to browse through the episodes, and see if there’s one you want to invest your time in.
With that, podcasting is much more like, say, selling a TV show to a network, right?
If you imagine yourself having an idea for a TV show, and then walking into a production meeting where you’re trying to sell it to a network, you’re going to talk about the premise of the show. Whether it’s a docuseries kind of thing, or it’s a sitcom, you have to sell it based on what it’s about, not on any individual episode. At that point, the producers don’t care about the individual episodes, they care if people are going to tune in, week after week, after week. That’s where the money is, and it’s the same thing with podcasting.
That’s why we really have to get clear on what this show is about, why it exists, and how it’s different from what else is out there. Because while, really, podcasting is still a wide open field, there are also a ton of podcasts. How you set up your premise to be different from other shows in your field is going to help it get noticed, but it’s also going to reinforce the positioning behind your business as well.
Essentially, your premise is just why someone’s going to want to tune into your show, week after week, after week. That boils down to the topic that you’re exploring, and how you’re exploring it differently from other people.
Okay. Talk to me about the differentiation factor, then. How do you make sure that your premise is different from other people?
Research. You’ve got to listen to other shows. I am appalled by the number of people who want to start a podcast, who don’t listen to podcasts. Or, they don’t listen to podcasts in their field. You can’t do that, you have to listen to other podcasts in your field, at least while you’re getting your show off the ground. Then again, every so often, to make sure you’re not missing anything.
If you want to launch a podcast, I would highly recommend just going into the category listings, in the category that you’re going to want to see your show pop up in. For me, my show is in, for Apple Podcast, it’s business, and then entrepreneurship is the sub-category. It’s important for me to go into that entrepreneurship sub-category, and look at the Top 100 podcasts and say, “All right, what are they doing? We’re all talking about entrepreneurship in one way or another. How’s Pat Flynn talking about it differently than I talk about it? How is Chalene Johnson talking about it differently than I’m talking about it? How is Darryl talking about it differently than I talk about it? Or, how I want to talk about it?”
So, you’ve got to listen, you’ve got to do your research. As you’re listening, you want to be thinking about, what do I really like about these shows? What is it that is drawing me in, what’s exciting, what kind of boxes are they ticking for me? Then, what do I hear that’s missing? What questions are they not asking, what are they avoiding? What do they not seem interested in? Do I think there’s a need for those questions? Would I like to know the answer to those questions? If the answer is yes, then that is a key area that you can start to differentiate in.
I’ll give you the example of how I came up with my difference. I loved, and still do, listening to business podcasts, and I listen to all sorts of them. I noticed, over, and over, and over again that the business podcasts that I was listening to primarily were bringing on experts, and those experts would, essentially, teach on what … kind of like what I’m doing right now. They would talk about their area of expertise, give a sneak peek, give some actionable takeaways for people, explain how some things work. It was great, and I loved that. And I was always curious to find out how people actually implemented those things, right? I just wasn’t finding a show that was like that, with the exception of one, and that’s my good friend Claire Pelletreau, she has a show called Get Paid.
So, Claire would really deep dive with people about how they get paid, what their business model looks like, what their packages look like, what their pricing looks like. I loved this, but she was the only one, at that time, that I could see doing that. And, she took an extended hiatus, when her daughter was born. I was like, “Not only is there only one of these shows that I want to hear, now there’s zero of these shows that I want to hear. That’s what my show needs to be about. I want my show to be about real business owners, really implementing this stuff, and telling me what actually worked for them, and what didn’t work for them.”
So, that’s how our premise got born. But you can take that, and replicate that same process in any category, by simply asking yourself, what questions aren’t being asked here? What stories aren’t being told here? You can still follow a broader topic, or a broader theme for your show, but really differentiate it by saying, “I’m going to go after this angle, that underrepresented in my category.”
This is awesome, super clear. I can imagine, and I even feel this a little bit myself, getting a little overwhelmed, here?
Okay, I’ve got to figure all this stuff out, before I can even start my show. There may be this analysis paralysis that would happen in this moment. What kind of suggestions do you have if we’re starting to feel overwhelmed, trying to figure all this stuff out for our show?
Yes, I’m really glad that you brought this up, because I get really excited about it, and then it does get really overwhelming for people.
The secret here is that it’s a constant evolution. I do think it’s important to come up with a strategy for your show, before you actually start producing it. Don’t decide to have a podcast today, and then produce an episode tomorrow, and get it up on iTunes by the weekend. Because you could do that, it doesn’t have to be a slow process, but if you’re doing this for your business, it deserves a little space to breathe, it deserves some forethought, and it deserves a plan.
And, it does not have to be the bestest plan you’ve ever written, it doesn’t have to be the most forethought you’ve ever given something, and you certainly don’t have to put the pressure on yourself to get it right, right out of the gate. Podcasting, I think, just like blogging, or emailing, is something that you get a feel for over time. Yes, understand what the value proposition is behind your show, understand what the premise is behind your show, but whatever you come up with for those things, that’s your opening volley. This is my opening hypothesis on what my show’s going to be about, and how it’s going to be different.
Over time, in the process of creating content, you will figure out whether that premise, and value proposition is true, and right, and good, and supporting your business in the way you need it to be supported. Or, you’ll find out things need to evolve. The wonderful thing about podcasting is that the evolution just feels so natural.
You can decide with this interview, or this episode, I’m going to try this different thing, and see how it lands. I want to see how it feels for me, I want to see how it feels for my listeners. And that, over time, as you gather that feedback, both internal and external, you can evolve your premise, and evolve the value proposition, evolve your content strategy, so that it does get more sophisticated, more mature, but that it doesn’t hold you back from actually getting started in the first place.
I love this. Tara, this has been super, super helpful. I have loved this conversation, because it’s super practical in, not just how easy it is to get a podcast started, but how to actually see results from the podcast, and the efforts that we’re putting forth in this type of medium. Thank you so much for being on the show.
I want to have you back, at some point. I’m putting you on the spot, here. I want to have you back, and talk about successful membership communities, because I’m so intrigued now that you’ve been talking about this membership community that you have. I know that so many of our listeners are super interested. I would love to have you back, and talk about that in the future, and I think tying this conversation into that membership community would be super, super fun as a next step.
Well, I would love to talk about that, I am happy to nerd out about communities, too.
Tell us really quickly where we can find more about you, listen to your podcast, and all of the things?
Sure. You can find the What Works podcast on any of your favorite podcast players. I listen on Apple Podcast, and on Overcast. You can find our website at ExploreWhatWorks.com. And then, my podcast production company is called Yellow House Media, and we’re at YellowHouse.media.
Awesome. Thanks Tara, so much, for being with us today.