Should self-employed language teachers start a podcast?

The other day, someone asked me whether, as a language teacher, it would be beneficial for them to start a podcast.

There’s no straightforward answer to this question – it’s one of many things you can do as a freelance teacher, and everyone has to decide what’s right for them in terms of where they want to put their content marketing efforts.

Do you enjoy creating audio content?
Do you have enough to talk about?
Do you have time to commit to this regularly?
Do you like listening to podcasts?

Here are some other things to consider, and questions that I have answered from my experience…

1. Can podcasts help you to learn a language?

I’d say that they can. The reason I set up the English with Kirsty podcast was that I had been such a big fan of podcasts for years. Before the days when I would consume content directly on my phone. Back in the old mp3 player days! I listened to podcasts in English, podcasts for German learners, and also podcasts for German speakers on subjects that interested me.

I’m not a visual learner. I like audio material, and I tell my students now that one of the best ways to improve their listening skills is to use material that really makes them listen.

I won’t write in depth about it here, but I wrote an article called How podcasts can help you to learn a language, which goes into a lot more detail about the benefits of podcasts for language learners.

2. What special skills do you need as a podcaster?

You need to have a message – something to say that can help, entertain, or in the case of teachers, educate people. You need content that will help your learners, and to get that knowledge across in a way that’s memorable, easy-to-understand and engaging.

I’d say that you need to be willing for your voice to be heard.

You need to either learn how to do things such as editing, or to be willing to pay someone else to do it for you.

I think it helps to be interested in podcasting as a subject, to follow the news so you know what’s happening in the world of podcasting, and to engage with others who can teach you things, give you ideas, inspire you, or help you out when things go wrong. If you’re a female podcaster, I would definitely recommend the She Podcasts Facebook group and podcast for this. Alternatively, there is The feed podcast

3. What goes into creating an episode?

This is a simplified version of my workflow:

A. Get an idea. Some of my content is completely unique to the podcast. Other times I use topics from my blog, because my blog readers and podcast listeners tend to be quite distinct, so I find it’s ok to repurpose blog content sometimes.
B. Record the episode.
C. Edit the episode and add the intro and outro music.
D. Create a new episode on my podcast host’s website. This includes uploading the file, setting the image, and writing the information that goes with the episode.
E. I also create a separate page for each episode on my website because that’s where I want to drive traffic. You don’t have to do this though.
F. Publish the episode.
G. Market the episode – because nobody will find out about it if you don’t let people know that it’s out there! Some people automate their social media sharing. I don’t, because I alter the message slightly for each network and want to make sure that the text fits. Nobody likes those tweets that get cut off in the middle because someone chose to share a massively long post from Facebook!
H. Where relevant, add it to the pool for resharing. I don’t use automatic resharing tools, but I do keep a list of evergreen content, because a lot of educational episodes don’t get old. They’re as relevant in a couple of years as they are today. I don’t repost content on my podcast feed, but I’ll happily share it again after a while on Twitter or Facebook, thus driving new listeners back to the content.

4. Why not do Youtube or live video instead?

For a start, I consume much more audio than video content, so it’s a format that I most enjoy.

I don’t like creating video content. I’ve tried it to see whether I would change my mind, but I didn’t.

There’s also the fact that I’m blind and would need help with video editing. Some blind Youtubers get this help. Other blind people do live video with help – some can do it without help – some don’t care how they look. I care very much, and it bothers me that I can’t see whether I’m in focus and whether I look ok. I don’t want to have to rely on someone else every time I want to create content, and with audio content, I don’t need to!

But also from the point of the consumer – not everyone wants to watch visual material all the time. I have friends and customers who listen to podcasts whilst driving to work. You can’t do that with a video. I know people who listen to podcasts while doing chores, running, cycling… You can’t do that with visual content.

There are people with limited bandwidth or data plans. It’s much easier for them to download audio content because it doesn’t chomp through your data as fast as video content does.

5. Does it cost a lot?

In some ways, it costs as much as you allow it to. Yes, better equipment will give you better sound quality, but only if you are using the equipment properly. You can always upgrade if you really get into podcasting, but I would encourage people to get started with what they have. It would be sad if people miss out on your message because you don’t think what you have is good enough. Even if you don’t have the best microphone out there, there are things that you can do to improve the sound quality.

I don’t want to talk too much about my set-up, because I made some of my decisions based on my visual impairment. For example, I pay to use editing software that works well for people who don’t use a mouse, but I know that there is free software out there.

I did pay for an hour of training on this software, although if you are prepared to teach yourself, you can cross off this expense. Or, you could pay to get additional training and enrol in a podcasting course – the choice is yours. The main thing is to not get overwhelmed.

So for me, my ongoing costs are to my podcast host, and for the licence for the editing software.

You could also pay for editing if you don’t want to do this yourself, or cover art if you don’t want to create this yourself. Some people also pay for the social media sharing, but maybe it’s just because I worked in Communications, but my social media and direct communication with listeners or potential customers is the last thing I would hand over to someone else. Everyone is different though!

6. How long should the episodes be?

It’s entirely up to you!

I intentionally keep mine short, because I know that some language learners would feel overwhelmed by a longer format. But I listen to podcasts that range from 3 minutes to 2 hours, so think about the content that you have, and what you want to achieve.

If you waffle on for an hour and send your listener to sleep, it would be better to stick to a shorter show. If you really want to delve into a topic and have plenty to say, it would probably be better to do a one-hour show than 3 20-minute ones.

I try to be consistent so that I can manage listener expectations every week, but I’d say there is no magic length.

7. Who will your audience be?

To be honest, mine is a bit of a mixture. Most of the people listening to English with Kirsty are adult language learners. Many of them are in Germany, because that’s where a lot of my customers are, but none of the content is in German, so it doesn’t matter where they are.

Most of them are intermediate to advanced learners. I do work with beginners, but the speech on my podcast is at a normal speed, and I don’t intentionally slow down or use really easy vocabulary. This is because most of my learners are already working with English and looking for opportunities to practice listening to authentic English, which I find is missing in many language courses.

I have some listeners who are still at school, but the episodes are not aimed at a younger audience, and I don’t do anything about exam preparation.

Some of my listeners are native speakers, but they benefit from the general language tips and they enjoy the explanations about English words and their meanings.

If you decide to start a podcast, try to imagine who your ideal listener would be. What problem would you fix for them? What would they be interested in? what would they want to find out more about?

8. How often do you need to create content?

Again, it’s up to you! English with Kirsty goes out once a week, and I skip a week if I’m on holiday. My other podcast goes out twice a week. I know other podcasts that go out once or twice a month. Others have seasons with breaks between.

The only daily podcasts that I subscribe to are for the news, and I delete anything that is over 2 days old. I know some people produce content that frequently, but they often burn out, because that’s a lot of content production. I also think it’s hard for the listener to keep up.

I’d say once a week is great if you can do it, but two good episodes a month are better than 4 rushed ones.

9. How do you get people to find out about the podcast?

Most of my traffic comes from Apple Podcasts (previously known as iTunes), so once you’ve got your RSS feed from your podcast provider, remember to submit your podcast to Apple Podcasts. Many smaller apps and services pull their data from the Apple Podcasts directory, although some give you the option of submitting directly such as Player FM.

A lot of people ask for ratings and reviews. I prefer to ask for people to share the episodes that they like with their friends or networks.

I share each episode on my business Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn, Xing (like LinkedIn but in Germany), Google, in my Facebook group, in any other Facebook groups where I think the content would be relevant, and in my newsletter.

Being a guest on other podcasts or inviting relevant contributors to be a guest on yours is another way to get your voice or your podcast in front of new audiences.

10. Does it work from a business point of view?

I don’t have sponsors for my podcast. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t, but it would have to be something that I would personally endorse and where there was no conflict of interest in terms of my own products and services.

I do, however, use the opportunity to talk about my own services when they’re relevant. So if the episode is about grammar, I might mention my grammar course. If I’m giving general information about job interviews, I would mention my one-to-one interview training. I also talk about free products, such as the 100 resources for improving your business English, which I put together for episode 100 of the podcast.

But the podcast is not a direct selling tool. If all you do is sell, sell, sell, people will get bored and disengage. Of course you can promote your own online community, products, or services, but it has to be in the context of the value that you’re adding through the free content.

In terms of customers, I have to be honest and say that the podcast isn’t my main method of bringing new customers, but I have had students who found me through the podcast. I see it as a way for people to get to know me, how I teach, and how I work. So someone may discover the podcast, then sign up for the newsletter, then eventually buy from me when something relevant comes up. I don’t want to have all my eggs in one basket, so I use different tools such as the podcast, the blog, the newsletter, the Facebook community – all of them are relevant to different people and help new people to discover my content and my business.

It’s not something direct like an advert. It’s about building a relationship with your audience, developing trust because you show up regularly, adding value. Then hopefully you’ll be top of mind if they need what your offering, or when someone in their network is looking for an English teacher.

You might not see instant results. I try not to be preoccupied with the stats, but I do look at them. However, rather than seeing it only in terms of whether it was an increase or decrease when compared to the last week, I try to imagine the number as that number of people in a room. Finding a room to fit X number of people for a meeting puts it into perspective for me more than “Oh, there were only X number of downloads this week”.

I’m not an expert on podcasting, but if you are a self-employed education professional, I hope this gave you some insight into podcasting and how it can help your existing/future students.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments. Also, if you have a podcast of your own, let me know about it so that I can check it out!

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