November of 2019 was when I had officially made up my mind about starting my very own podcast. I had been toying with this idea for months but didn't have the courage to actually do it. For one, I didn't think I was the best public speaker. Secondly, it takes time for me to gather my thoughts. Also, I had never envisioned myself in this role before. However, I was inspired by up and coming popular Asian podcasters, like Asian Boss Girl and Rock the Boat, to finally step up my game and just go for it. These incredibly intelligent and intentionally thoughtful Asian women were the ones who empowered me to speak up and tap into my creative side. I had a hard time finding more Southeast Asian podcasters to listen to so this had also solidified my decision to start one up. This is why representation matters!
In 2018, I started listening to podcasts to break the boredom of solo business traveling. I would travel nearly every 2 months domestically or internationally and love filling my time with new learnings and expanding my knowledge base while waiting in line for security or at my gate at the airport or en route to my destination by air. My favorite podcast genres were all over the place. I would listen to murder mysteries, girl talks, business topics, conspiracy theories, and so many others that I found entertaining. Finally, I discovered that I really found a lot of value listening to "Life Journal" type genres, specifically Asian women and their life experiences. By the way, when I find a podcast that I really like, I will listen to all of the episodes in a marathon then would be hungry for more. The problem is that there are very limited podcasts with Asian representation, or maybe there are a lot out there but just hard to find? This sparked my interest to do more research and learn all of the best practices of starting my very own podcast. Google was my best friend, and I read up on various articles, watched YouTube videos, and read through Amazon reviews for the best, most affordable equipment. It was actually a big learning curve, but once I started learning the basics, it became much easier and more manageable.
Ok, so, why did my first podcast fail?! You probably didn't even know that I had a failed podcast prior to the 2 Khmerican Sisters. We all have to start from somewhere. For me, I have always learned things the hard way. The key takeaway from failure is to always learn from your experiences and do better the next time around. "Fail Fast to Learn Faster" is one of my life mottos.
3 Reasons Why My First Podcast Failed
1) Mixing Friends & Business and Not Being Fully Aligned
The major reason why my first podcast failed is that I mixed friends and business. I had asked 2 of my closest friends to co-host with me thinking that It wouldn’t be as scary if I had someone else to do this with, to build something great together if we were all dedicated and passionate about what we were doing. However, it doesn't matter how long you have known someone, you will ALWAYS learn something new about someone, because people will change throughout the course of their lives, or they might not have shared a certain part of themselves to you before. Everything went well for three months, and we were having a great time, until it came down to sharing our perspectives on the current environment of racial injustice and inequity issues. It had never crossed my mind that a topic like this would test the strength and validity of our friendship and podcast. For decades, we had always gotten along. I saw the BLM movement as a human rights issue, while they saw things in a different light. I understand that 2020 has been an unprecedented year and uncovered so many problematic issues within our system, e.g. racial injustices and inequities impacting our Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, xenophobia against Asians around the world due to COVID-19, inequities and under-resourcing within our healthcare and educational system, etc.
With everything that's been happening, I believe these current events are critical and have forced us to finally talk about these deep-rooted issues but is unfortunately dividing us further as a nation. And, in my case, even in friendships. The three of us have never been hardcore into politics, and this was the first time we had a huge disagreement and refused to hear each other out. This was the first time I had even learned about their political views. I wish we had better communication and empathy toward one another when faced with this difficult and controversial topic that impacts all of us. Right now, I feel that it is more important than ever to be listening and open to understanding one another. If you and your co-hosts are not willing to face discomfort and have open and frank conversations about important topics, then having a podcast together is a recipe for disaster. The biggest lesson learned from this experience is to avoid bringing friends into your passion project if you guys are not aligned on your mission, vision and purpose.
2) Doing Too Much All At Once
Overloading yourself at the beginning is also detrimental to the success of your podcast, especially if it is only a side hobby. We all know that work-life balance is important in our lives. As an overachiever, it is very easy to want to do it all at once and say yes to everything and everyone. So, it's important to set clear boundaries and expectations for yourself, your co-hosts and your guest speakers. Don't be afraid to create your own structure, rules and timeline - whether you want it to be consistent or ad-hoc. March to the beat of your own drums. You may get advice and recommendations coming at you in all sorts of directions; although, people mean well and want you to succeed, know that you don't always have to implement what they tell you to do.
What I have found helpful is to not follow a timeline that is too rigid to allow for changes to occur during the podcast season. Also, you don't need to create an account for all social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok. Start with one to give time for learning and juggling different tasks, and if you can manage it simultaneously with podcast planning and production, then go for it. Note that when you start a podcast, you are now filling up your spare time with outlining topics, recording and editing episodes, reaching out to potential guest speakers, writing up the episode descriptions, finding artwork for your episodes, coming up with promo content for your social media platform(s), and many others. There's a lot that happens behind-the-scenes that you may not be aware of until you are actually working through the process. Understand your new battle rhythm first before taking on more.
3) Podcasting Just to Podcast
When you podcast "just to podcast" to randomly talk about topics with no clear direction, purpose or intention behind your messaging, you may not get a high retention rate by . your listeners as you might have hoped for or expected, unless you are a popular influencer or celebrity and listeners know who you are and are genuinely interested in following you. When you start from the ground up and nobody knows who you are, you really need to dive deeper into a series of questions, like what will set your podcast apart from others? What will make your podcast unique? Is there a niche audience you could tap into? There are currently 850,000 podcasts in the world, so how will you get people to listen to yours?
With my first podcast, we had a wide range of different topics from serious to fun; but, because we had so many ideas, we were all over the place with what we wanted to do and would work in silos, not really knowing what we were individually doing and putting out there. It was like having three different podcasts and attempting to merge them all into one podcast, which can look a bit disorganized from an outside perspective. In the long-term, this would not have been a sustainable or successful business model, especially if we wanted to grow this podcast into potentially a side hustle or primary business. My recommendations for building a better strategic plan for your podcast are to define your purpose and objectives, tailor your episode topics to align to your mission and vision, and understand who your targeted "niche" audiences are in order to grow and scale.
Now that I've been producing podcasts for half a year, I'd say the most difficult part of podcasting is taking the time to edit episodes from beginning to end (often multiple times since I'm a perfectionist!) The longer the duration of your episodes, the more time it will take to edit since you will need to listen to and review every word spoken. My main goal is to produce high quality, thoughtful episodes so that I'm delivering the highest value to my listeners, who are giving up their spare time to listen to what I'm sharing with them. I definitely want to make sure that it will be well worth their time. Through my mistakes and failures from my first podcast, I have reflected on these lessons and have come up with ways to improve my second podcast. I needed a month break to detox from it all and then reconnected with my youngest sister, who had pre-recorded an episode on racial equity in education with me during my first podcast but unfortunately wasn't able to release. Now, it's live on the 2 Khmerican Sisters podcast with over 350 plays!
My sister and I agreed that we wanted to start from scratch and build our new listener base from zero. We felt it was the right direction to take so that it could be something we call our own and be proud of. It also felt right to partner with my sister since our mission, vision and purpose aligned, and all of our ideas for our passion project integrated so well together. It's a huge plus that she has similar work ethic and leadership style and is always willing to speak up, be honest and talk together whenever we have disagreements or are faced with a tough issue. I had no idea that she had wanted to create a website geared toward the BIPoC community for awhile now.
For years, we have always wanted to figure out a way to give back to our Khmer community and show our Khmerican pride but didn't know how to do so. Social distancing and being at home have given us more time back in our days to focus on doing something we're passionate about. In just a month, the 2 Khmerican Sisters podcast has received over 1,000 plays world-wide and a following of 500+ supporters on Instagram! We have also partnered with several influencers, podcasters and people of color small businesses. This experience has truly caused me to pivot for the better, and it has been nice to celebrate these small wins with my sister and our new platform. We both look forward to what the next few months will bring.
If you are interested in starting your own podcast, I'd like to invite you to attend an upcoming class that I will be volunteering to teach next month to support the Executive Development Institute (EDI) for Multicultural Leaders. It'll only be $25 for a 90-minute session, but I will teach you everything you need to know - the ins and outs of podcast planning, production and execution! 100% of the proceeds will go directly toward supporting this amazing leadership development program for Asians and Hispanics. Click here to find out more!
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