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I can’t believe we’ve reached episode 100! This episode is an introspective (retrospective?) on how I built How I Built It. I’ll go over the idea, what I’ve learned over 2 years of podcasting, some pretty sweet automation, and more. I want to everyone who’s listened, shared, came on, and sponsored the show. I wouldn’t have been able to get here without all of you!
Question of the week: Why haven’t you started your podcast? Let me know in the comments or at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Joe on Twitter
- Blue Yeti | Rode Procaster
- My Podcast Setup
- Libsyn | PowerPress
- How I used SearchWP and Monochrome Pro
- Build Your Podcast Website in 3 Days
Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 100 of How I Built It. In today’s episode, I don’t have a guest. This is a little bit new to me. This is just going to be me, talking to you about how I built this podcast. Over the last two and a half years I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how I put together the show, how I built the website, how I built my audience.
I’m going to run through the questions I normally ask, but it’s just going to be me answering them. I hope you like it. It’s a little bit of an introspective, or a retrospective maybe, for the hundredth episode. I’m excited to talk about this with you, the people who have made this show possible. Thank you so much for that.
Before we get started, I do want to tell you that the show is sponsored by Pantheon, our season-long sponsor. I will mention them again later in the show. I also want to tell you that I have launched a brand new course called Build Your Podcast Website in Three Days. I’m going to be talking a little bit about how I built How I Built It, but this course gets into the technical nitty gritty.
We talk about signing up for hosting and buying a domain, installing a platform for you to host your podcast, setting up Castos for audio and then submitting your show to the likes of iTunes and Spotify. I’m excited about the course, and you can get a special offer for the next seven days from the time this is released. That’s about early November.
You’ll get a special offer if you go to HowIBuilt.it/course. Definitely check that out. I’ll tell you again about Pantheon later in the show. Without further ado, let me tell you about how I built How I Built It.
Most of you know who I am and what I do, so we can skip that question. I am a front-end web developer, I’m an educator, but the podcast is what we’re talking about today. I came up with the idea for this show in maybe the late middle of 2016. I had just gone on my honeymoon, we were in Italy, and most of the websites had a .it domain. I thought that HowIBuilt.it would be a cool domain name, but I didn’t have an idea attached to it. Fast forward to when I got home from my honeymoon, I realized that I wanted to revamp my online courses or the way I was doing education.
I was teaching at the University of Scranton, but I had just moved away from Scranton. I wanted to keep teaching, and I thought, “Maybe webinars would be a good way, or in person, classes might be a good way.” Neither of those worked out. Ultimately, I had to do online courses. I was having conversations with a lot of people on what I could do to position myself properly while also not competing with friends who were in the same space.
The conversations that I was having were so valuable that I thought, “Other people should be hearing this. Other people should be privy to the information that my friends and others are freely giving me.” So I decided to buy the domain HowIBuilt.it and start the podcast with that in mind.
I bought the podcast domain through GoDaddy because I am a US citizen so I could not just full-out buy an .it domain. They have a brokerage program, so that’s how I got the domain, and then I decided to start the show that way. That’s how I came up the idea. As far as research goes, I’m not great at researching. I’ve probably said this a lot throughout the years, but I did want to make sure I did this right.
First of all, I wanted to make sure that there was not another show out there already doing this. And at the time, there wasn’t. About three months later there would be, and I’m just considering that validation of my own idea.
But I did look in iTunes to see what kind of podcasts were covering this sort of topic, and I was going to stick in the WordPress space, so I limited my search a little bit to maybe business and technology. Business, technology and WordPress and there wasn’t something out there. So I thought, “OK. This is good. I’m not going to have the exact same show as somebody else.”
Then I researched how I would put this together. Naturally, I would use WordPress because I’ve been using WordPress forever. I have a custom theme that I built called Parsec, and I figured I could modify that to do the podcast things that I wanted to do. But it was my friend Jackie D’Elia who is a graphic and web designer and a Genesis developer, and she has a podcast called Rethink.FM. She was on season 1 of the show, and she asked me, we were in a mastermind together and she asked me, “Where are you hosting your audio?”
And I was like, “I was going to host it in WordPress. Just upload the audio files.” She goes, “You probably shouldn’t do that. I’m going to host mine with LibSyn, and you should look into separate audio hosts for a few reasons.” So I dove into researching that. And I thought, “How many people are using a separate audio host?” It turns out most of the podcasts I listen to used LibSyn for a bunch of reasons.
If you’re using a separate audio host, iTunes I learned, pulls the audio from that host. They don’t download your show and serve it up through their servers. You want a good rock solid host for your MP3s. These other services, LibSyn, Castos and whatever else is out there, also provide analytics. So you get download numbers, and where your show is being downloaded from geographically, and what app, and you get other information about analytics for your show. That turned out to be important and here’s why.
When I first started the show, I thought I would use this to cross promote my online courses, so I wasn’t going to accept sponsors. But then somebody wanted to sponsor the show, and I thought, “I’m not going to turn away money, but I’m going to change the scope a little bit. Now, this show is going to be sponsored.” So I got lucky in that regard, but I’m glad that I did that initial research because if I had just uploaded the MP3s to the WordPress directory, it would have been a burden on my host.
The original host I was using, the show was already burdensome, and I wouldn’t have the statistics for my pitch deck which has now evolved to send to sponsors. I wouldn’t know how many people were downloading the show except for maybe my Google analytics. I’m glad I did that research, and I’m glad Jackie said something about that.
I also researched the gear. I had this Samson Meteor– I think it’s a Samson Meteor mic. It was fine, but I used this opportunity to get a Blue Yeti and a boom arm for the Blue Yeti so that it wasn’t in my way. I looked at what software I should use. I was using a Mac full time at that point, so I would use Garage Band. “Do I need a pop filter?” So I built out version 1.0 of my podcast set up, which was a Blue Yeti, a boom arm, and a pop filter. That was the extent of it. I knew how to put a WordPress site together, and I found a good plugin, a popular plugin called PowerPress. I think Matt Madeiros from the Matt Report told me about that one, and I was able to use LibSyn with PowerPress even though they have their own service called Blubrry, and so I put the site together.
Over time I did more research to figure out, “What do sponsors want to know? What do I need to know about my audience? How do I engage my audience? Do I need better equipment?” That was maybe the first really big upgrade I made to my podcast set up, was my equipment over last year. I bought a new XLR microphone. The Road Pro Caster. I have the same boom arm, I have a different pop filter that fits the Road Pro Caster, and then I have an ART voice channel which is how I can make sure that no outside noise is getting into my microphone. Among other things, I can also make my voice sound warmer or lower, like more muddy, is the audio term. I can tweak it to make it sound just right. If I have a lot of s sounds, a lot of sibilance, I can use a de-esser to make that less grating on your ears.
I did later research like that, and then the last big bit of research I did involving my show was over this past summer at Podcast Movement. I talked to a lot of people in the space, specifically about how to get sponsors and how I can improve my show and the automations. I’ll talk about all that in the next segment of the show, but I did continue to do research for how to improve this show. It’s a living, breathing thing at this point, so I’m not just going to launch it and put it out into the world and say, “Here you are. Here’s my podcast.” I’m going to think about ways to continually improve it.
That was one of the big things that I researched, and I guess finally, the last thing that I want to point out is that I added transcripts in part as some of the other research I was doing. Like, “How important are transcripts?” That was also a result of the research that I was doing. That’s the lion’s share of the research that I have right there. It was mostly, “How was I going to host the audio? How should I build my website? What equipment should I use?” Another one was, “Should I do it live or pre-recorded? Pre-recorded is definitely the way to go. I’ve edited out a couple of mess ups, so I’m really glad I’m not doing that live. That’s where most of my research came in.
As far as the title question, how did I build it, we’ll get to that. But first, I want to tell you about this episode’s sponsor and the sponsor for my entire season, and that’s Pantheon.
Break: Today’s episode is brought to you by Pantheon. WordPress 5.0 and the new editor Gutenberg are coming. Are you prepared? Do you want to learn about the changes in advance? Pantheon has gathered resources to help you prepare, including webinars and tutorials. Pantheon also has made it easy and free to try Gutenberg with your site before the official launch. Visit Pantheon.io/Gutenberg. Let them know that How I Built, It sent you. Now, back to the show.
So, how did I build How I Built It? There’s a couple of things here that I want to mention. There’s the site, putting the show together, scheduling the guests. Let’s start with maybe the more technical stuff. I signed up for a LibSyn account, and I built the podcast website on top of WordPress. I used the plugin PowerPress to add some extra functionality for podcasting and to make sure that the feed that I submitted to iTunes and other directories was properly formatted. That’s something that I think doesn’t get enough credit.
As far as these podcast plugins for WordPress go, customizing WordPress feeds is a difficult thing, and a good podcast plugin will make sure that the feed for your podcast is properly formatted before you submit it. Because especially iTunes is very particular about how your feed is formatted. I didn’t have to write a single line of code to make that happen, PowerPress handled it automatically.
The theme that I was using at the time was Parsec which was my own personal theme that I wrote for my book, Responsive Design with WordPress. I made a child theme for it that was specific to podcasting, where I would put the show notes and the images and anything pertaining to the audio, subscribe buttons, anything pertaining to that content I laid it out the way that I wanted.
I put together the episodes page and a sponsor page and a contact page, and things like that. So that’s how I put together the site. It was pretty barebones when I first launched it, and I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time putting the site together if I decided a month in that I didn’t like it. That was how I built version 1 of the website.
As far as putting together the episodes and how I built those when I first started out I just reached out to my friends, especially the people I’d already spoken to. I said, “Do you want to be on a new podcast I’m starting?” I made a list of people that I would love to talk to, and I said “I’m starting this new podcast. Do you think it’s something you’d want to be on?” And my first five guests were amazing. Jason Coleman, Rebecca Gill, Brian Krogsgard, Corey Miller and Carrie Dils. They came on no questions asked. They were just like, “I’d love to come on the show for you, I appreciate you asking.”
It was a very manual process. “What time works for you? Let’s get on Skype, and I’ll record it. If you could record your side of the audio, that would be good,” and I would collect it all. That process evolved a little bit because I added Calendly, so I would say, “Pick a time that works for you here. We don’t have to figure out time zones, Calendly will already do that.” Then it sends them a link to some guest notes, some things that each guest should know, and how we’ll talk, and then a calendar invite.
All of that is taken care of with Calendly. That was maybe the best addition to my process that I made for a long time. When we got together and recorded the audio I used– At first, I was using QuickTime to record my audio, and I asked my guests to do the same. Then I wanted to make sure I had a redundant backup, so I was using Skype at the time, and I used Skype and a program called E-cam Recorder to make sure that it recorded both my audio and my guest’s audio in two separate tracks that then can be combined later.
I still ask my guests to record their side of the audio, though. That’s because if we get into a situation where maybe the internet gets bad on either end, their voice gets like robot-y. You get that it’s hard to understand them, and I wanted to have the best possible audio quality. I had them record their side of the audio. I wanted the full uncompressed version, and then I would combine them.
And speaking of, I did the editing for the first few episodes, and that was the most time-consuming part. If it was a half hour episode it would take me a couple of hours to edit the audio, and I thought, “This is just a learning curve,” and then I realized, “No. I have to listen to the whole episode, I have to cut things out, I need to process the audio, and I need to add the bumpers,” and stuff like that.
I would do the intro and outro separately because I wanted to recap the episode. That was another evolution in the format of the show. But I used Garage Band to do all that, and Garage Band is a nice program, but it took a lot of work. So that was the first thing that I wanted to cut out, as far as me doing it.
If we’re talking about how I built this whole podcast, then I want to talk a little bit about the automations that I’ve built over especially the last year to put my show on autopilot a little bit and take up less of my own time, because then I could focus on researching the guests and asking the right questions and promoting it properly and just putting together the best possible content and allowing other people to play to their strengths to make this the best possible show.
So I have two big automations set up that I’ve built for the podcast, and the first has to do with scheduling. I mentioned Calendly, and Calendly does a great job of taking the headache out of scheduling with another person, again especially if they’re in another time zone. I use Calendly, and when somebody schedules an appointment, I trigger a zap in Zapier to create a Zoom call.
Another evolution is that I’m using Zoom now instead of Skype. Most of my guests, it turns out, prefer Zoom to Skype. I got a lot of, “I haven’t used– This the first time I’m using Skype in years, sorry.” I just wanted to take the headache out of that, so I use Zoom. If a guest requests Skype, I will gladly do that, but Zoom has been pretty smooth so far for most of my guests who already use Zoom.
So the automation goes from Calendly, it sets up a Zoom call, it updates the Google event calendar or the Google Calendar event to include the new Zoom URL and the guest notes that the guest should read over before coming on the show, and then it also creates a new note in Evernote with all of the information the guest filled out from the Calendly as well as headings for each question. That makes it very easy for me to take notes during the show, and good notes during the show that I can then pass off to my transcriber.
This is where the second big automation comes in. I record the episode, and I save both my side of the audio and the guest side of the audio, and when I do that, I have an app running on my Mac called Hazel. Hazel will clean up the desktop, and it’ll take those files, and it will move them into a folder in Dropbox called “Needs Editing.” I add the intro and outro, the sponsor spots all separately, as well as the intro and outro music. When a new folder or an episode is complete, Zapier triggers an email, and it gets sent to my editor. It says, “There’s a new folder in Dropbox that needs to be edited.”
He then edits them and puts the episode into a folder in that same Dropbox area called “Needs Transcribing.” My transcriber gets the episode or a notification for the episode, and now she can transcribe it. The name matches a note in this Evernote notebook that we both have access to, so now she can put together a good transcript with all of the terms I’ve used, and she puts together the show notes for me.
I’ve set up these automations, I show up and record the show, and then I do add everything to WordPress. I like doing that because it feels like I’m shipping the next episode. But from the time I save the audio to the time I need to add it to WordPress, I don’t touch the show at all. I have automations doing that for me. That has saved me a ton of time. So, that’s how I built out some of the automations.
I want to improve the process a little bit, which I’ll talk about later. But for the latest version of the HowIBuilt.it website that also went through a major redesign. I’m using Monochrome Pro now from the Genesis framework, or from Studio Press using the Genesis framework. It was my first foray into using Genesis, and I was pretty excited about it. I was able to use their hooks and things like that to customize the experience for the content, and so I’ve made the episodes easily consumable.
I’ve put the sponsors in a more visible area for each episode, and I have included the transcripts in such a way that it doesn’t like blow up my listeners’ podcast feeds. You can click to read the transcript if you want. If somebody is reading the transcript on the website and they want to follow along, the audio is included there too. The other major thing that I added since– Well there’s two major things.
One is a custom plugin that I built on top of PowerPress. That creates a custom post type for me to add sponsors and associate those sponsors with episodes, and then the same thing for transcripts. I added transcripts around season 3 or 4 as soon as it was not financially prohibitive for me to do so. I’m working on the back catalog, but I’m very excited that I’m able to have transcripts kind of per episode moving forward.
I can associate sponsors and transcripts with an episode, so they are all separate in the WordPress backend, but the user or the listener sees them all nicely in one place. I also used SearchWP to associate the transcript text with an episode, so if you go to my website HowIBuilt.it and search for a term if that term exists in the transcript that episode will show up. I’m excited about that.
I do have a video on how I put all of this together that I will link in the show notes for this episode, and it will be HowIBuilt.it/100. That is the latest version of the website. As far as the latest version of– Well, I talked a bit about the latest version of the process. That’s kind of how I built the whole show. With the automations, with the theme, and things like that. I know we’re coming up, I’m watching, we’re coming up on time here. So I’ve talked a little bit about the evolutions. “How has the show changed?” I’ve added transcripts, I’ve improved my process, I don’t just start with the sponsor spot now I give you a recap of what we talk about and what to look for, and then I talk about the sponsors. I’ve added a mid-roll spot for the sponsors, and I’ve added an outro.
The overall production quality has improved because of my new equipment, and because of this new process where somebody else is editing the episode and not me. I’m excited about that. As far as my plans for the future go, I want some more automations. I want to make it so that I don’t have to upload the episode to LibSyn anymore. Either my editor can do that, my transcriber can do that, or maybe I can kick off a zap on Zapier where when a file with a certain name hits a folder it automatically gets uploaded to LibSyn. I don’t know if that’s possible, but it’s something that I want to try.
I also want to experiment with episode formats a little bit. This is the first episode where I’m just talking directly to you, and there’s no guest. If you like it, let me know, and I’ll do you more like that. Or if you’re like, “You’re great, but I prefer listening to somebody else most of the time.” Let me know that too. Interviews definitely aren’t going away, and I have a lot of really great ones scheduled for season 6.
I also want to try to improve engagement. So, these are my plans for the future. Lastly, I’m thinking about maybe doing away with the seasons, and maybe just taking a couple of breaks. Like over the holidays, maybe I’ll take a break. Over the summer I’ll take a two-week break. But I am at a point now where I have enough content to fill pretty much a whole year, and I love doing the show, and I want to keep doing that, so I want to get ahead of the curve. I want to experiment with episodes, and I want to improve engagement.
Those are my plans for the future, season 6 and onward. To improve engagement, I would love if you just reached out to me and let me know, ask me questions or make suggestions. I want to know what you the listeners are thinking. Then there’s the trade secret. My favorite part of every episode is asking this because every guest responds the same way. They go, “Trade secret…” and they think about it for a little while. And I knew I was going to ask myself this, so I thought about it before I started recording.
My trade secret is this. Starting a podcast is more time consuming than I thought it would be, but it’s not hard necessarily. Yes, it takes time. Yes, there are things that you need to know. But if you’re comfortable speaking to another person, or speaking in front of a microphone, you should give it a try. I have more fun doing my podcast than I do anything else. If I could be a full-time podcaster, I would strongly consider it.
I love creating my online courses, but getting to interact with people and talking to the listeners, talking to the guests, working with sponsors has been the most fun. I consider myself incredibly lucky that this podcast has taken off the way it has, and I have you to thank, and I have my guests and my sponsors to thank. And yes I know I have put a lot of work into the show, but that work is maybe secondary to the reception that it’s gotten and to the support, I’ve gotten from other people.
If I haven’t gotten the support from you and the guests and the sponsors, it would have been very hard to put in that work. I’m grateful that I’m able to create something that gets downloaded 5,000 times an episode 40,000 times over the course of a month, and I want you to experience that joy too. So my trade secret for you is start podcasting today. It’s time-consuming, but it’s super rewarding, as most rewarding things are time-consuming.
I would strongly recommend you do that. If you want to know anything else about the show, reach out to me. I know I did get one question, “How much does it cost to produce an episode?” I have found some great people on Fiverr to work with, and they do fantastic work. It costs maybe $60 an episode, maybe $70 an episode and that’s to get it edited and transcribed. Again, I’m super lucky that I found such great people to work with.
If you have any questions about podcasting, please reach out. Again, thank you so much for listening to 100 episodes, and I appreciate you for doing so. So, that’s it for this episode. Thank you for joining me. I hope that it was illuminating, I hope that maybe you got some questions answered. I hope that you got ideas for how to start your podcast. Or if you have a podcast, things you can do to improve your podcast, if you think it needs improvement.
My question of the week for you is, why haven’t you started your podcast if you haven’t? Let me know. Email me Joe@HowIBuilt.it or reach out on Twitter, @jcasabona and let me know and I’ll give you a pep talk to help you. Thanks so much again to our sponsor Pantheon. Definitely check out the things they’re doing, Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0 are coming, and they have resources that will help you. That’s over at Pantheon.io/Gutenberg.
That’s the recap, the sponsor spot, the question of the week. If you want to talk with other people who are answering the question of the week, join the Facebook community over at HowIBuilt.it/Facebook. If you have your show but you need a great website, head over to HowIBuilt.it/course and you can find my newly launched podcast website course, Build Your Podcast Website in Three Days.
Thanks so much for joining me for episode 100. If you like the show, make sure to give it a rating or review over on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. That’s one of the big reasons the show has grown, is because people are rating and reviewing it. It’s getting listed in the top 50 episodes consistently, which is another thing that I’m super appreciative of. Thanks so much for joining me. Until next time, get out there and build something.