Saturday, February 6, 2010

Working smart, so you don't have to work (quite as) hard

I'm presently working on the concepts behind a few new podcasts. I took some time off, over the past while, to focus on both personal projects and branch out into new territory. I had been podcasting and working fast and furiously on my podcasting platform, for a while, and I realized after about a year, that I was on an unsustainable path. Podcasting and iPods and online audio and rich media were really starting to come online 'round about 2005-2006, and the wave was building... building... building. There was such excitement around it, and I certainly got swept into the enthusiasm.

Rightfully so, too. Podcasting and online audio are seriously good ways to get the word out about your products or services or outlooks or personal brand. And, when done right, they are actually not that hard to do. But as much as I promoted the concept and talked it up and did it myself, there always seemed to be something missing from the equation.

For all the excitement around podcasting, and for all the potential of the medium, it just wasn't taking off quite the way I expected it to -- especially among small business owners and entrepreneurs, who are probably some of the people most benefited by the medium. It just didn't make sense. Bummer.

So, I did the smart thing, and I got some distance from the whole podcasting scene. I switched up the focus of Podtopia to be about training, and I went on a sort of professional "walkabout". I put in a bit of time at a business intelligence/social networking startup down the road from where I live. The efforts paid off for them -- they were acquired by Dow Jones. Then I went over to 3Com and worked in their marketing department for a while. Then I ventured into healthcare and put in 9 months at Fresenius Medical Care, working on their intranet.

I got some distance. I took time away from the whole media thing. I did some serious soul-searching (in between coding personal LAMP apps in my spare time), and I thought long and hard about what makes a podcast good, what makes for quality audio, and what turns what could be a great thing into a monumental pain in the a**.

Because truly, if you do it a certain way, podcasting and working with audio in general can drive you batty. The files can get huge and gum up your hard drive, which in turn can hurt your computer's overall performance and affect (supposedly unrelated) things like speed and email and responsiveness, not to mention the amount of time it takes for your anti-virus program to scan your hard drive. The process of producing a podcast on a regular basis can get time-consuming, too. A general rule of thumb is to allow yourself at least twice as much time to produce the podcast, as it does to record it. If you've got a 15-minute podcast, give yourself a minimum half hour (sometimes more) to produce it. On the surface, it looks so simple, so easy. And it is. But there are all sorts of hidden gotchas that can get in the way, if you don't plan for them.

It can drive you nuts. I should know. It did that to me. Yeah, I had to take a break from podcasting for a while.

I got clear. I got settled. I got rested. And I realized that the place where the podcasting process broke down for me, was not in the middle of the process, as I thought it was. It actually had broken down at the very start -- at the planning stage.

I had to plan:
  • what I wanted to say
  • when I was going to record
  • when I was going to produce the segments
  • when I was going to promote it
  • how and where I was going to promote it
  • how I was going to follow up
  • what I was going to link to/reference from my feed file
  • how I was going to do it on a regular basis

Without that planning piece, the process spiraled out of control pretty quickly, and the end result was that I lost my momentum, I lost my focus, and the desire to even think about podcasting was eclipsed by other more immediate things.

I learned: Podcasting without Planning is Problematic

And because I wasn't smart about my work, I ended up working really, really hard. And eventually stopped doing it altogether. It happens all the time, and it's probably why podcasting isn't ubiquitous at this time. It's a human phenomenon. But it's also entirely avoidable.

So, now that I'm back, I'm going to be talking a whole lot more about the planning and management aspects of podcasting. The medium is actually the easy part -- there are a ton of decent tools out there to do this thing called audio marketing. It's the preparation and management that are the hard parts.

Well, I've got a chiro appointment shortly, so it's off to Groton to take care of my trusty back.