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Do you have a podcast? Why not? What does it take? Learn how to launch a successful podcast—no experience necessary. Just start it, and stick with it.
Today’s guest is Nathan Ellering, Head of Marketing at CoSchedule. He started the Actionable Marketing Podcast (AMP) from scratch nearly five years ago. He shares some of the lessons he learned to help listeners create their own show.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
You’re listening to the Actionable Marketing Podcast, powered by CoSchedule. The only way to organize your marketing in one place. Helping marketers stay focused, deliver projects on time, and keep their entire marketing team happy.
Ben: Welcome to another episode of the Actionable Marketing Podcast. My name is Ben Sailer. I’m the inbound marketing director here at CoSchedule and also the new-ish host of the show. On this episode, I’ll be talking to my friend and colleague, Nathan Ellering. He heads up all things marketing here at CoShedule and actually started this podcast himself around five years ago. We had a great conversation about how he launched the show, what he learned along the way, and how listeners, like yourself, can apply those lessons to start a podcast of your own. I hope you enjoy the episode.
How is it going Nathan?
Nathan: Hey, pretty good Ben. Thanks for having me.
Ben: It’s great to have you back on the show that you formerly hosted. This is a little bit different. I am working remote at the moment. Normally, we’re in the same room, having these kinds of conversations, but this is a little bit interesting making this a call and show of sorts. I’m really excited to be able to share this conversation with our listeners, though, because as anyone who heard our last episode would know, I’m now the host of the Actionable Marketing Podcast, which you had so successfully started way back in the day. Then, we handed it off to our friend Eric, who has moved on to bigger and better things. Now, I’m leading this up.
I’m really excited to be able to talk to you, though, and to let our listeners in on just the strategy behind how this show even came to be, and just to get an insight on what it takes to make a podcast like this one. To get started, what was the strategy behind starting the Actionable Marketing Podcast back in, I think it was 2016?
Nathan: Number one, I know we’re leaving this in good hands. Thanks for being so willing and taking this on Ben. We did start the podcast actually, I think it was 2015, Ben. How crazy is that?
Ben: Yeah, that is wild. Pretty much everything the past last week is all a blur to me.
Nathan: As it is for us all. What we say at CoSchedule (and Ben you know this), what a typical company can do in a year, we try to do in three months here at CoSchedule. All of that rings true for me for sure.
Nathan: Back to your question to actually answer the strategy behind the podcast. Why did we start this thing up? Why were we thinking a podcast was a thing that we should do? We’re blogging at the time (we still have a very big blog), but we wanted to diversify a little bit.
There were several reasons why a podcast made sense. The very first one was that, as marketers, we wanted to be in communication and talking to our customers, like actually sitting down having conversations with them. We thought if we’re going to do that, why not record some of those conversations and share them with other people? Our whole thought was, we’re going to try to solve problems and workshop these things with our customers. We’re all working together towards a similar goal and other people can learn from this stuff, too. The very first things that we wanted to do was talk to customers.
A podcast (we also knew, though) gave us a chance to connect with industry experts. CoSchedule, obviously, is in the marketing industry, so we have experts throughout the marketing industry, everyone from Robert Rose at Content Marketing Institute, Ann Handley at MarketingProfs, Andrea Fryrear at AgileSherpas, Rand Fishkin formerly of Moz and now is SparkToro. We’ve talked to all these people and so many more. What’s really great for us is that these people had their followings, so we get to introduce CoSchedule a little bit to them. We also get to make those connections with those experts. Those relationships have really gone a long way.
For example, the relationship with Andrea Fryrear of AgileSherpas has started with a podcast. Actually, I’ll step back, it started with her and I connecting at Content Marketing World (of all places) where we talked and we’re like, “Hey, you should be on our podcast. We should feature you,” to which she was so gracious to say yes to. Then that relationship blossomed into a whole bunch more, where we collaborated with her on a state of agile marketing, a report, which I know they’re probably coming out with a new one here soon. We also worked with her on a case study around agile marketing as implemented within a marketing organization. Here at CoSchedule, we use agile best practices all the time. The relationship has just gone well beyond that, but it really did start with being able to offer a podcast episode up to kick start that conversation.
I guess a few other things, too. We have learned so much here at CoSchedule and even back in 2015 when we started this thing up. One of our philosophies here at CoSchedule is fail fast. We talk about that all the time. We thought, just internally speaking, we had a lot of lessons learned and things that we should be sharing with our own audience. Everything from product marketing best practices, which is one of our early episodes to, Ben I know you and I talked about blog scheduling cadences and all of that. It’s been a way for us to share what we’ve learned with other people in the industry and a way that they can adopt it and embrace agilely.
On top of that (just the last thing), we really wanted to dig deep into topics, really deep into how people are solving these problems. In marketing, if there’s one thing that rings true is that we encounter many of the same problems, but everyone is so smart in very different ways and they coach problem solving differently. Sometimes, the terms that they use, the frameworks, and best practices that they have found work really well just aren’t driven by things like search results. Though where our blog is really meant to help people find us through search engines, the podcast allowed us to actually dig in to frameworks and things that are groundbreaking that people just aren’t even looking for yet. That’s really what we wanted to do with the podcast.
Ben: Absolutely. I really love that point about why target things beyond search engines? A search engine can only answer question that people are already asking. This podcast is just such a great tool for digging into questions that people don’t know they should be asking. Would you say that’s fair?
Nathan: Yeah, I actually think that’s a really great summary of that. As marketers, we all understand the value of someone types in a term and you want to show up in Google as a search result. That’s pretty common. Sometimes these frameworks, best practices, tips, advice, we have marketers who are in the trenches doing this stuff, having problems, and trying to overcome them. We just don’t even know that we should be searching for this stuff yet, or we haven’t thought about problem solving in this specific way. We just don’t know what’s even worse to define it. A podcast is a really great way to get that content out there’s in a ways that it’s not really stressful for either a host or a guest. It’s just a natural conversation that would happen between two marketers talking shop.
Ben: Absolutely; love it. When you were starting out, what were some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced early on and how did you overcome them?
Nathan: I think that’s a really great question, because if you’re thinking about starting a podcast, I know it can feel daunting maybe, or it’s just really easy to overthink things, but for me at the beginning, it was really about building some interview skills. As anyone who has listened to the Actionable Marketing Podcast before knows, the way that we like to do it is to have a host and interview someone who has something to say about some marketing topic. Being able to interview was something that I had to learn.
I know some of those early episodes are pretty raw, too. Another thing that I learned right away is recording quality. We just had the philosophy that let’s get in, learn by actually doing it, and we ship some early stuff that we just got better at it over time. I definitely learned the value of being able to try to edit better and record a little bit better.
The last thing that was really difficult at the beginning was (for lack of a better word) building a content foundation or planning ahead. Something that we learned right away was, why don’t we just create a bank of content as far as podcast episodes go? Let’s just say four episodes, we publish once a week. If we can get four episodes done before we start, we can always be a month a head. We just need to maintain and record one podcast a week to get there.
I think that’s even still a challenge for us at times, because we don’t really control schedules as much as our guest do. We want to make sure that we’re interviewing guests and sometimes the schedules change. I think that’s even still a struggle for us.
Ben: Now, I’d like to reiterate at this point that when this show launched, Nathan had no idea how to start and run a podcast. That’s like everything else here at CoSchedule. Someone, at some point, saw a need or an opportunity to create something valuable for our customers and for our audience, then they did it, and just figure it out. If you’re feeling like launching your own podcast feels too overwhelming, just remember, everyone who has ever launched a podcast or really done anything ever at all with marketing has felt that way at first. Now, back to the show.
How long did it take for the podcast to gain serious traction, to start getting more subscribers, and really grow into the show that it is today?
Nathan: That’s a super fair question. At the beginning, we really like doing the whole, “Ask for people to rate you on iTunes.” After a while, we thought those things would just come naturally. Those reviews on iTunes means more people can find you.
What we didn’t really take into consideration with that was the different platforms that people are listening from. If you’re listening at Spotify, for example, you’re not using iTunes, so why should they go there and reach you, you can’t really rate things in Spotify. It was just a big lesson learned that maybe that’s not the right approach, but we did that to gain subscribers.
I think the lesson learned is that it’s better for us to recap what the guest is really saying and try to provide examples of how their advice can be used in practice. That goes with our name, but I think that’s a big lesson learned for how we we’re trying to gain subscribers in the beginning. I’d say that number one lesson learned was to just to stick with it and keep publishing.
It was about six months until every episode we could definitely bank on hundreds of listens every episode, a lot of those happening on the day that we publish them, which is always Tuesdays. I think it was about a year in when we started getting more than a thousand listens for every single episode.
Now, here we are going on five years now, which is really fun. We’ve got hundreds of thousands of downloads of this podcast so far, so we’re extremely grateful. I think a big lesson learned and this goes with anything content marketing is that you can’t just publish one thing and expect that MVP (Minimum Viable Project) to take off. You just need to stick with it. If you’re thinking about starting up a podcast, just know it’s a long-term endeavor. It’s a program. It’s not really a single project. It’s something that you’ll be doing as part of your marketing strategy for the rest of the company’s existence.
Ben: Absolutely. I agree 100% with that last point, which I think is probably particularly important for anybody who’s starting out. Don’t get too discouraged early on. What tips have you learned for asking busy people to become podcast guest? The reason why I asked is because, I’ve always been very impressed with some of the names that you’ve been able to get on the show over the years. I think it’s really incredible. How would you go about, or have you gone about getting Ann Handley or Rand Fishkin on to the show?
Nathan: A really easy way for us to begin there was with an email, but tactic aside, the way we approach it at the beginning was to start small. For practice purposes, we knew it was really easy to interview our internal team to begin with and then customers who already were in love with the product that we sell. It was just really easy way to get a guest like, “Hey, we want to feature you on this new endeavor for a podcast.” We didn’t think it out to be a really big deal, but when they finally did say yes, they said yes because, “Hey, we’ll give you a backlink to your site,” every marketer likes that sort of thing, “we’ll give you credit, we’ll start emailing you and your company to our list of email subscribers.” At that time when we started, we probably had 400,000, or so email subscribers. That’s always a thing to throw at them.
We just started small there. We had actually made up a list of (for lack of a better word) micro-influencers. We knew there are people in the industry who are very big marketing experts but on something that is more natural or granular. It may not be like a Joe Pulizzi, who is famed for being the “godfather” of content marketing. That’s wasn’t something that we’re going to shoot for right away.
We started with people who are extremely smart in their craft but may not have been as well-known. As we work our way up, then we got Robert Rose on the show from CMI and Ann Handley came from there. Once you get some of those names, then it’s easy in your asks to be like, “Hey, we think you should be on the show because you’re really good at this topic. Here’s who’s been on the show. You’ll be among really good company.”
When we started getting accolades, like we’re in the Forbes Top Ten List for Marketing Podcast, you just throw that in there like, “Hey, the show has been on the top ten list on sites like Forbes, Inc.” I forget all the ones now. You just say those things. Email is the way that we delivered that. I handwrite every single email. I don’t follow a template. I want it to feel real. That’s what I do. That’s how we get people on the show. It just saying, “Hey, we think you’d be great at talking about this thing and here’s a bunch of credibility things, here’s what you’re going to get, here’s what’s in it for you.” That’s how it worked really well for us.
Ben: Very cool. Looking back at the number of years that you spent hosting the show, what are some of your favorite memories from the podcast?
Nathan: I think this is a fun question for sure. The first interview I ever did on the podcast (you can look back at this episode), was with Kyle DeWeert from Apprenda. I told you the biggest challenge right way was interview skills. I’m pretty sure I was so nervous, I just was not confident in my own self to host.
Maybe a lesson learned here and the reason why I think it’s a favorite memory is, it took me that one interview to be like, “You know what? There’s no reason to be nervous on this thing. These people said, ‘yes’ they expect me to host. People can feel the nerves then that makes them nervous.” Kyle was just really great to me and I had explained to him, “Hey this is my first one. Just be cool.” He totally was. It’s just a really good memory, just self-awareness on my part. It just helped me grow a lot as a marketer and even as professional just talking to people.
The second really good memory was just the day that we started getting mentions and round-ups on Forbes and Inc. We just knew that people were listening to the show and the love and the outpour of, “Hey, this is really good stuff. We liked the concept of hearing from marketers like us,” has been really rewarding. It’s not like a feeling like, “Hey, we made it,” but it’s a feeling that if people are sharing the show, they’re truly finding value, which is what we really wanted out of it. That was a blessing that I’m very thankful for.
Ben: Absolutely. I hope that you feel better at all. If you’ve ever felt nervous on the show, it’s never shown to me. Obviously, I’ve been listening to the show all these years. I’ve always been impressed with the way that you’ve handled it. I’ve got some big shoes to fill for sure.
One last question before we wrap this up. What’s your number one tip for listeners considering starting their own brand and podcast? You don’t even have to limit it to just one. What would be your top tips for people listening to this show.
Nathan: Number one, I love this question last. If you’ve ever listened to shows where I’ve been hosting, I love ending with this like, “How do I take all these stuff and I actually put it into practice?” That’s a good way to start, or a good tip, I would say. I think when you’re trying to start anything new, it is very easy to overthink it, to over complicate it.
One of my favorite pieces of advice that I’ve gotten from our CEO, Garrett Moon, is just to start and don’t overthink it. While our early episodes, I’d be hard on myself about them feeling raw, maybe they’re not recorded well, maybe I was nervous, I was talking about. We had to start so that we could get to the point where we are today with the podcast and being able to hand it over to you, Ben. So, just starting, don’t overthink it.
If you’re interviewing people, begin internally is a different tip. It’s like what we’re doing right now Ben, we’re beginning to host this. It’s just a conversation you and I would normally have had. You have experts within your company already, who your customers would probably love to hear from, so why not begin internally if you can?
Another big tip, we did this right from the get go, is to hire an editor. I do not believe in editing these podcast myself, or having anyone on our team edit it. What we want is professionals to step in and help us out there. We work with a really great company, Podcast Motor, highly recommend, shout-out to you guys. They’ve been with us from the very beginning.
The reason why I think it’s important to hire an editor instead of doing it yourself is because if they do it, you can concentrate on the conversations, the quality of the topic itself. Someone else can be a professional at editing it and you don’t have to spend hours doing that.
Hiring it out just makes a lot more sense. They’re professionals, they promised to deliver on time, and they’ve never missed. We have delivered stuff late to them before, but they have never missed a deadline ever, not even once for the course of five years, it’s really impressive. A big shout-out to them.
Then a last tip for starting. We host through Libsyn, it is a product and highly recommended. It’s very easy to use. What’s really cool about Libsyn is that they can deliver out. Basically, you publish on Libsyn and then it just delivers automatically to a whole slew of different places where people like to listen such as Spotify, iTunes, and a whole bunch more. It’s a similar story to CoSchedule, where you can publish stuff and it just goes everywhere. So a big shout-out to Libsyn. I wouldn’t host anywhere else.
Ben: Very cool. This was a super fun conversation, Nathan. I’m so glad that we’re able to share some of this insight with all the folks listening at home, or at the office, or on their commute, or wherever they may be. I’ll second that shout-out to the folks of Podcast Motor for making all our lives so much easier and helping to make this show possible.
Nathan: Well, thanks for having me on the show Ben. I know we’re turning the tables on everyone, but if you’ve been a long time listener of this podcast, you guys are in very good hands. Ben is our inbound marketing director here at CoSchedule. He is the guy, the brains behind the CoSchedule blogs. If you guys have questions there, just reach out to him. I have really high hopes for all the topics yet to come. I know we’re leaving this in good hands. Ben, congrats and really excited to see where this is going to go.
Ben: Thank you so much Nathan. I really appreciate the vote of confidence.
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