When I started out podcasting, I was a teacher.
Not a kid teacher. Thank Zeus. I’m not built for that stress (sending a heartfelt ‘thank you!’ to any high school teachers out there 😅)
I worked at a University in Edinburgh, Scotland. My job was helping to run a Masters course on how to teach with technology.
A bit meta, I know. Using technology to teach how to teach with technology.
That’s the bit of my story that always confuses people…
But it meant that, when I created that first Pod, I was thinking like a teacher.
I looked at the Podcast like it was a course, and I built it that way.
It was natural to me. Probably would be to any teacher.
But, practically no one else does it.
Fifteen years later, I now know: that mindset is one of the most powerful things you can do for your show success.
Every time I share this with a podcaster who’s struggling with…
⚙️ finding consistency
🥵 hitting burnout
🗣️ getting their audience more engaged
💹 growing that audience
… it completely flips a switch. Lightbulb moment an’ all that… 💡
And it doesn’t only apply to teaching shows, by the way. It can work a treat for entertainment, for news, for just about any kind of show. It’s also great for interview shows, and getting even more value out of every guest.
So, what did I actually do? What do I still do?
It’s seasons ☀️
But What’s Wrong with Normal Podcasting?
Good question. Well, what’s the ‘normal format’?
So, consistency is great. But, there are BIG downsides to the whole idea of an “infinite” podcast. You probably guessed that from that ominously capitalised FOREVER 😅.
- It’s a huuuge commitment.
I’m going to start this thing, and do it every week, with no particular goals or end in sight, without ever stopping for a breath?
- Coming up with new topics every week is HARD
Every episode is standalone, so planning is always standalone, and done every week anew. That’s exhausting!
- Your episode order is completely random
There’s no logic or flow to your content. Listeners know they can miss an episode and it doesn’t matter, so it doesn’t build habit.
- Random order means sub-standard learning
Imagine starting a Science course, and the lessons are: 1. Quantum Mechanics. 2. Simple Addition. 3. Substring theory. 4. Fractions. You just wouldn’t learn… Optimum learning and success comes from progression and structure.
- Your Back catalogue is entirely unorganised
Similarly, that random order can be off-putting to potential new listeners who take a look at your back catalogue and think, “Where do I even start?”. This cuts the bingeing you want to see.
Now, podcasting has to be fun, too. So, if you enjoy the flexibility to follow a new thread every week, then have at it! If you have the time and the motivation to plan it every, time, that’s great.
But for those of us who want to make it easier to plan and deliver our show, and make the biggest difference in our listeners’ lives, then moving to seasons can tackle ALL of the problems above. It can make content creation much easier for you, and much more effective for your listener.
You’ll have guessed by now, I’m a seasons-format fanatic 😅
I don’t do it on every show I produce, but I do do it on most. Want to know more about how it works? Let’s take a look!
📺 Prefer to watch? Here’s a YouTube Video walking through my approach to seasons:
Who Suits Podcasting in Seasons?
Firstly, seasons-based podcasting is really effective for anyone who does at least a little bit of teaching on their podcast.
I don’t mean teaching in any kind of formal sense. I just mean that you talk about your expertise and you help people to learn a little along the way. That could be sharing experience, inspiration, motivation, or any other way you ‘help’ a listener.
Next, it can also work really well for an entertainment-based show. If you do comedy, games, sport, whatever, the benefits for you that I relate below will heavily apply.
The main niche it’s not so good for is current affairs & news, for reasons you can probably guess. These types of podcasts rely heavily on last-minute planning to ensure that the podcast is up to date with the latest happenings. That means seasons are pretty hard to plan. In saying that, though, you might find some of the benefits still apply.
My Podcasting in Seasons Framework
Alrighty, nuts and bolts time. Here’s the framework:
- Pick a hot topic or question from your audience. This is one of the core questions you’re often asked, or concepts you share. Use question research approaches to find these out.
- Sketch out, in bullet points, how you’d teach the answer, step by step. Break it down into small sections.
- Aim for around 8 bullets, for your first season. That’s 1.5 to 2 months of weekly content.
- Create 5 to 10 sub-bullets for each bullet on how you’d teach that specific concept.
- You now have a season plan. A guide for your entire next 2 months.
- Turn up every week and record the next episode on the plan. Or batch record and create 2 to 4 episodes in one week.
- End of season Episode: tell listeners how long you’ll break for, and when you’ll be back.
- End of season Episode: Ask listeners to send in feedback and ideas during the break, so it’ll power the next season.
- Take a well-earned break!
That’s it! Season complete.
A Season Plan Example
I’m going to use a gardening podcast as an example. Let’s say the host, Amanda Rose is a professional gardener and talks to enthusiastic amateurs on a weekly basis about everything gardening. To podcast in seasons, here’s what she’d do:
- Sit down and think of a topic she’s often asked about.
Amanda might write down a bunch of topics and eventually come up with: “How do I Grow Great Vegetables at Home?” This is one of the most common questions she’s asked.
- Break the topic down into individual lessons.
She thinks about discrete elements within that topic. How would she teach it to a complete novice? Amanda comes up with things like the growing calendar, preparing the ground and so on.
- Roughly sketch out the structure for each episode.
For this, she takes each topic and breaks it down into parts. So, the growing calendar breaks down into things like: Winter, planting and preparing. Spring: Plant types, maintenance, fertilisers.
Here’s how the plan might look for the first few episodes:
- Episode 1: Starting Your Home Vegetable Garden
- Choosing the Right Location
- Soil Preparation Basics
- Selecting Vegetable Varieties
- Planting Timelines and Techniques
- Episode 2: Essential Gardening Tools and Equipment
- Basic Tool Kit for Beginners
- Irrigation and Watering Systems
- Protective Gear and Clothing
- Organizing and Storing Your Tools
- Episode 3: Nurturing Your Plants – Watering and Feeding
- Effective Watering Strategies
- Understanding Fertilizers
- Mulching Techniques
- Signs of Under or Overwatering
- Episode 4: Pest Control and Disease Prevention
- Identifying Common Pests
- Organic Pest Control Methods
- Preventing Plant Diseases
- Safe and Effective Pesticides
- Episode 5: Pruning and Maintenance for Healthy Growth
- The Basics of Pruning
- Thinning Seedlings
- Managing Weeds
- Regular Maintenance Routines
You can see that there’s not much writing in here. And yet, the season is fully designed!
If I know my subject well, I could record every episode based on this alone. And if I want to have more structure, I just spend a little more time fleshing these out.
What if I do Entertainment?
If you do an entertainment show, you might not be asked questions on a regular basis. But, this can still work for you.
A great approach, in this case, is to ‘theme’ a season. If you do comedy, for example, you might do a season called ‘The Poser’s Guide to…’ like Masters of None used to do a few years back.
You pick out a series of topics you want to cover, maybe even ask for listener input during your season break, and then plan it out. It creates a narrative that draws people through the series and still gives you the benefit of congruous content, without the teaching.
Or, perhaps you cover computer games. In that case, you could do a season called ‘Games from our Childhood’. You can cover a new one each week, teasing later episodes to build hype. The key thing is that the episodes are related and easy to plan out as a series.
It doesn’t matter what topic you cover. There’s nearly always a good way to incorporate seasons in a way that’ll help both you and the listeners.
Can You Do Seasons on an Interview Show?
Common question! Yes, it works nicely for interviews.
The difference is that you do more to plan your interviews ahead of time, and organise a set of them around a theme.
This can actually be a great way to get way more value from an interviewer. You focus in on the real detail of someone’s knowledge, rather than getting a wide, shallow picture from them.
It’s the difference between going a mile wide, or a mile deep. Here are two approaches to it:
1. Topic First
The first two steps are the same as our standard framework above.
- Research your next big topic
- Break it down into 5 to 10 potential subjects within that topic.
But next, instead of delivering the episodes myself or with a co-host, I find interviewees to do it with me!
I could bring on old interviewees and dig into something specific with them.
Or I could search out people who have talked about that specific subject before. You can do that on social media, in communities, or find them through standard search, and content they’ve put out themselves.
2. Interviewee First
If you already have a few interviewees in mind, then you can base the topic around their special knowledge. Find what they’re uniquely good at, and plan a season around that.
The difference here is that each episode should dig into that really focused topic. This is unlike most interviews, which tend to go shallow and wide, rather than narrow and deep.
Once you have a few ‘keystone’ interviewees, you can sketch out the other parts of the topic you want to cover, then search interviewees for those specific elements.
How Many Episodes in a Podcast Season?
A season should be as long as you need it to be, and no more.
Think about discrete topics, and split them up into the component parts of the main subject.
For example, Amanda wants to talk about root veg on a separate episode to leaf veg, because they’re quite different. But the growing techniques for carrots and potatoes aren’t quite different enough to differentiate them, so ‘root veg’ is a good base lesson.
Benefits For You as a Creator
Why’s this worth it for you, the producer?
1. Weekly recording is much easier
Rather than coming up with a new topic every week, you’re following a plan over a number of months. That bullet point outline is available, every week, and makes it so much easier to sit down and record.
2. Motivation is increased
You’re no longer just ‘going through the motions’ when you record. You know where you’re going, you have a purpose, an end in sight, and you feel progress towards that goal: the completion of the season. I always feel far more motivated to record when I’m working my way through a season, as opposed to stand-alone weekly recording.
3. Taking a break
When you’re doing seasons, it means one simple thing – you get to take a break! The thing is, weekly podcasting is great in the early days and is still mostly great in the latter days. But, that weekly treadmill of content does begin to grind you down. Introduce a break every few months, though, and it all changes. You get a few weeks in between seasons to recharge and then to get excited about the next.
4. Evolution & Improvement
One of my favourite things about seasons is that it creates these clear ‘review points’ throughout your podcast career, which encourage you to mix things up and evolve as you go.
At the end of a season, I encourage every podcaster to survey their audience. Ask your listeners what they enjoyed and what they didn’t. Ask them what they want to hear in the next season. Ask them about the format, the hosts, the topics. Ask them how you can get better.
That info is invaluable and it’ll guide you in how to change things up for the next season. Only by sourcing feedback and using it to evolve can you be sure you’re constantly improving.
5. Evergreen Authority Resources
An unexpected benefit of seasons, for me, was the gradual build-up of highly authoritative evergreen resources.
I think I realised this was happening at the end of my 3rd season. I was around 40 episodes in by that point, and I suddenly noticed that I had three big collections of episodes, covering three of the biggest problem areas of podcasting. I started to refer people to the seasons themselves as if they were a course or an audiobook. At that point, I started to release individual seasons on iTunes, too, reasoning that it would be good to allow people to consume that entire season as a stand-alone resource.
It certainly worked, and I’ve developed a few of my seasons into full courses now. That means adding extra lessons or deep dives, along with video, text and activities. These courses are part of our core offering at the company now, and all evolved from an original podcast season.
Benefits for Your Listener when Podcasting in Seasons
The best bit is that this isn’t just good for you; it really benefits your listeners, too.
1. Much More Effective Learning
Remember when you were at school? How did the teacher organise your lessons?
When you learned Maths I bet it didn’t look like this:
- Lesson 1. Advanced Integration
- Lesson 2. Adding up
- Lesson 3. Fourier Analysis
- Lesson 4. Two times table
That wouldn’t make any sense – the teacher is mixing up really advanced material with total beginner’s material, and they’re jumping around subjects like crazy.
But, the thing is, that’s exactly what a lot of people do on their podcasts. They start a new topic every week and mix up the levels, episode after episode. It’s not an effective way for anyone to learn, or even just to follow along with your story.
2. Navigation & Binge Listening
Leading on from the last point, say someone DID want to learn from you and was interested in a sub-topic that you cover. How would they find all of the info you’ve released on that topic?
Take Amanda again: if she did a normal podcast, she might talk about vegetables every now and again, but not in a structured fashion. The listener could search through Amanda’s back catalogue, searching out all of the vegetable episodes they can find. But it makes work for them. It’s not easy, even if you use Categories and Tagging to at least bring together episodes around a theme. It’ll lead to an unorganised list of shows, mixing up the levels and the order, and it generally doesn’t help them out very much.
A season, though, is something that’s purposefully organised, and something listeners can always go back to. You can link to your season on ‘vegetables’ at any time, and your listeners can go back and listen through the entire series as if it were an audiobook. That’s one thing that encourages a binge listen, and that’s something that creates fast fanatical fans.
Is There a Bad Side to Podcasting in Seasons?
Okay, I’ll admit it’s not all roses. There are a couple of downsides.
1. Does it Cut Down my Flexibility?
The biggest downside for me is the reduction in flexibility. I often have the opportunity to interview someone great for Podcraft, but I’m in the middle of a season which is totally unrelated to their subject. That means either squeezing them in, slightly randomly, or waiting until a new season which may be related.
Using Your Season Breaks
The way I get around this is to do interviews on my season breaks. I’ll pick up interviews during a 2 or 3-month season run, and then I might release them during the month or two that I take off. That means I’m actually not taking a full break, which is slightly cheating, I know, but it works for me on occasion.
If it’s something I really want to get out there, I’ll just take a break from the season for a week and put it out. I use categories within WordPress to manage my episodes, so you can still make it easy for anyone to go back and listen through a season (one category) in sequence, not seeing the ‘in-between’ episodes.
Keep Timely or Non-Season Info Until the End
Alternatively, if you want to put some timely info in there – perhaps news-related or personal – or some non-season-related material, you can just put it in at the end! That means the main episode is completely evergreen until you get to the last few minutes. When people go back and listen at a later date, they can always just skip to the next episode once they reach that segment.
2. Will I Lose Listeners During the Break?
This is always the fear in doing seasons. Or rather, it’s the fear of taking a break between seasons. Everyone worries that they’ll lose listeners when they take a month off.
It’s true – if you just take a month off, then you will. Although probably far fewer than you expect.
This is really easy to mitigate, though, with this piece of simple advice: communicate!
Communicate With Your Listeners
Tell your listeners what’s going on. In the season finale, let them know that this is the last episode for a while. Then tell them exactly when you’ll be back. If you’re clear on this and make it obvious what’s going on, you’ll lose very few people along the way.
Create an End of Season Signpost
Something I often do at the end of a season is to record a short end-of-season signpost and release that onto my feed. That’s the most recent episode, and so it’s the one that downloads first if someone new subscribes to the show. I explain what’s going on in there, and I’ll signpost all of the previous seasons, hoping that I encourage them to start listening to the back catalogue.
I also make the title of that episode clear, something like: “End of Season 5! We Return on May 29th”. That means potential new listeners won’t be put off by looking at the dates and spotting that nothing’s been released for a while.
Podcasting in Seasons: Test It Out!
I hope that’s given you an idea of when you could try out a seasons-based approach and how you might go about it. I know, from my own experience, that there have been a huge number of benefits. Not only the motivation aspect but the evergreen resources that emerge, which I’ve gradually turned into courses.
Have you tried podcasting in seasons? How is it going for you? Pop into our IndiePod Community and let us know!