Heck Media Founder Dairy 1 — Learning to drive

I’m frequently annoyed with my business.

If I had left things well alone, life may have remained a more familiar kind of stressful. Now that I’ve stirred the business pot, life is 358 different kinds of stressful (but at least it’s not boring)!

Here’s a background — in September 2020, at the nadir of COVID-19 doldrums, I was accepted into a business incubator program for creative businesses who want to achieve social impact. Check out the incubator at poplabs.com.au.

I started work on building a podcast company that exclusively makes content by creators from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and other communities that are marginalised and under-represented in mainstream Australian media. The vision is to make Australian media truly representative of our diversity.

After a manic incubator burst, Heck Media was officially born in December 2020. Check it out at heckmedia.com.au.

One and a half months later, my little child is stuck on the ramp of a busy freeway, on her first day behind the wheel of a car, trying to find the right moment to merge into traffic whizzing by, in a torrential downpour, with three backseat drivers yelling “NOW” at different points… at least that’s what it feels like.

I’m bursting with big ideas, but I’m struggling to figure out the balance between spending time creating my podcasts and spending time gaining new listeners. I don’t understand where to start, and I’ve been under the impression that forging ahead with brute force and big plans will help me get on the freeway.

This weekend I got some great advice from Simon Newstead, an experienced entrepreneur and venture capitalist, and host of Vegan Startup Podcast.

I was excitedly telling him of all my grand plans to start this show, contact that expert, release such and such mini-series, and so forth, when he said, “hold on, how many listeners do have right now?”

“About 300.”

*crickets chirping*

In case you’re wondering, 300 isn’t a lot. Even though I greatly value all my listeners because they’re highly engaged, smart, loyal, and take the time to give me feedback, these listener stats don’t get you far in the business of podcasting. And so far, I’ve been podcasting for pleasure, not business.

For my company to achieve its desired social impact, I need to have podcasts that are commercially viable, and that means tens of thousands of downloads per month — many, many, more listeners.

Simon gave me a few clear, actionable suggestions on how to optimise the time I spend on my business at this early stage.

His advice was to curb my enthusiasm — hold on to the big ideas for later, when I have more listeners. If I make big, complex stories now, I could be wasting my effort. Firstly, people may decline to cooperate because I still only have a small listener base. That’s bridges burned — I only get one shot at each of those pitches.

If I do land big stories, only a few hundred people will hear them. Later, when I have more listeners, those older episodes won’t get so many downloads. That’s a waste.

I need to prioritise getting the word out about me and my bag of magic podcasts, and gain more listeners.

Simon suggested I spend 50% of my time on making podcasts, and 50% on marketing.

That’s after the time I spend on other aspects of the business, such as operations, recruitment, finances, and legal. Not to mention, on my actual job that pays the bills.

Here’s the problem: for the next few months, I have nothing really to market except promises. Seasons 1 and 2 of my show Heckin’ Concerned (check it out on Spotify) are good and I’m proud of them, but they won’t give me much mileage by way of promotion. Season 3 is still under production and won’t be released for a couple of months yet. I also have two other shows in pre-production, that will launch in April.

Also, I’m the only one in the business.

So, now what?

I’ve decided to:

  • Reconfigure Season 3 of Heckin’ Concerned — make interesting but shorter stories that take less of my time to produce
  • Spend the time between now and April preparing media kits for all shows and making lists of publications and newsletters to whom I will send media releases
  • Hire staff who are better podcast producers than me
  • Start writing all the difficult but awesome ideas down for later
  • Stretch out my timelines — it’s ok if I take 2 years to get to my first milestone, I’m in it for the long haul
  • Set smaller goals — quality of impact over quantity
  • Be less embarrassed about promoting myself and my work

So, yeah, I’m annoyed with my business because it makes me uncomfortable every day. But, growing pains are better than stasis.

P.S. — I know how to drive. The title was just a metaphor.