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How Lindsay Achieved 8 Million Downloads In Podcasting

July 25, 2022

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How do you achieve 8 million downloads in podcasting?

Lindsay McMahon was an English teacher teaching students as far as Japan and South America. During that time, she was also a podcast listener. That ignited an idea to start her own podcast. In the spring of 2013, Lindsay and her friend plugged in and never looked back.

In this episode, Lindsay shares how she started her podcast journey and how she achieved 8 million downloads over time. She will share how her podcast has evolved and developed, and what she learned after nine years of podcasting. And what started as a hobby, has become a successful podcast today.

How Lindsay Started Podcasting

Anne: I’m excited to talk podcasting! And you have been podcasting for a while, can you take us back to 2013?

Lindsay: That’s right, I’d be happy to! Thanks again for having me on. I’m excited to chat with your listeners today and offer a lot of value for sure. So I started this show in the fall of 2013. I was an English teacher. What we do is teach English as a second language on our show to international professionals who are non-native speakers of English who want to do business abroad. I was an ESL teacher and I had taught in Japan, and South America, and I was a podcast listener at that time. 

And I thought, Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to start one? I called up my friend who was also an ESL teacher living in Boston at the time. And we just plugged in a microphone and got stuck.

Anne: Just like that.

Lindsay: Yeah, to be honest, it was kind of just like that. It was a very different time. People didn’t really know what podcasting was about at that time. And we didn’t really have anywhere to go for information on how to do it. I think there was one PDF guide out there from Pat Flynn or Entrepreneur On Fire or something that we downloaded.

I barely figured out how to submit our show too. It was iTunes at the time, but now Apple Podcasts, but yeah, those were the days. 

Anne: Yeah, very different if you would start podcasting now. You’ve been podcasting for nine years now. How was it? How were the past nine years of podcasting?

Lindsay: Amazing! I have to say, I’m so glad I found podcasting because there’s something about it. Something that I don’t get in video or Instagram or social media. There’s something that allows me to feel like this is my medium. Like, this is what I was meant to do in a way. I love it, I mean, thank goodness for podcasting?

Key Differences Between Podcasting Nine Years Ago And Now

Anne: Yes, I agree. So in nine years, is there anything you want to change? Well, probably. what would you say are a few key differences between what podcasting was nine years ago and what it is now?

Lindsay: Good question. Nine years ago, when I started, it was a hobby. I had another business at the time I was running a company, like a training company where we would hire out teachers for students one-on-one and I thought that would become my business. And All Ears English was my little hobby. It was like playing on the side. My original co-host and I would sit down on a Sunday afternoon and work from 8:00 AM until 7:00 PM. And we’d record like 30 episodes for that month. Yeah, it was insane, but we did it as a hobby.  And we felt lucky, that immediately, it kind of took off. It just kind of rode the waves of the algorithms. It was well-received and it struck a chord with our audience. 

Eventually, now, I turned it into a real system. I understand what works with our audience. There’s a pattern to every single episode, and it doesn’t mean it’s boring. It means that our listeners know exactly what to expect. They know when it’s going to be released. What’s going to be featured in the episodes and it just works. So we’ve systematized it. 

Anne: Would you say that consistency is key? We hear that all the time. Consistency in releasing episodes is key, but also consistency within the episodes?

Lindsay: Yeah, I would say that a hundred percent, Yes. You have to be consistent in releasing the episode because it’s a trust issue. That’s been one of our best strategies to actually succeed with our podcast. Not everyone can do this, but we publish Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and we’ve never missed a day since launch. 

That means we don’t just rely on inspiration or having free time. No, we systematize it. We get together and we record it in bulk and we make sure that we are three or four weeks out. Sometimes we record two months out from the date it’s going to drop because it’s always going to drop. So I take it seriously. And then to address your other question and within the episode itself, yes, there is a kind of a template, but I’m not sure if that’s because my audience is also learning a language.

We know that at the end, it’s really great for my audience to have a takeaway where we tie the language point that we’ve just taught, not just back to the language of English, but to life. We talk about connection, not perfection as our motto. And that’s another thing we did that helped our show.

So we have a takeaway, an opening little dialogue back and forth, and we also have role-plays.  There is some consistency within the episode. They’re always about 15 minutes. So our listeners know exactly what they’re going to get.

Anne: That sounds good. And yeah, like you saw your listeners are there to learn something. So maybe for your audience, it’s super important, but maybe for somebody else’s it might be less important.

Lindsay: I totally agree with that. There are times when you just have to know your audience and know your industry and know what they want. Know what they’ve gotten before that hasn’t worked. And I can tell you in the past, the ESL world has not worked for everyone, textbooks classrooms. And knowing what could be fresh and new and just understanding what they need.

Workflow And Content Creation

Anne: You mentioned systematizing the podcast and systematizing, like the process of creating the podcast as well. Can you take us through that a little bit? Can you share a little bit more about your workflow and creating so much content? 

Lindsay: The first thing I would say when we talk about our systems and our workflow is there’s no way I could do this without my team. I have two virtual assistants, so VAs, who help us with a lot of the uploading, scheduling, and YouTube editing, because two out of the four episodes a week, we will put on YouTube.

We’ll turn on the camera and then the other two, we just have just the camera off and just the microphone for the podcast. We’ve got two virtual assistants and one audio editor taking care of just editing the podcast itself. I’ve got three other podcasters on my team. We run another podcast too. It’s a little bit smaller, and our downloads are close to 800,000 a month. So it’s still a big show and it’s called IELTS Energy. That is a test prep show. 

So we’ve got quite a huge team as well as developers and web people. That’s my number one thing. When you have a team, you build a team around yourself, then you have to put in clear SOPs to make sure they know what they need to be doing every week. once they get that, you’re good to go. You just need to make sure to stay on top of them and make sure that things are getting done.

Beyond that, we have a big spreadsheet where we list out every episode that’s coming out. These are the consistent elements of every episode. Outside of the main content.

How Their Team Developed

Anne: I was also wondering, How did you build your team?

Lindsay: My co-host and I started the show together. At that time, I think she edited the first 20 episodes. And then we said no more. That’s the biggest mistake. I actually see people making is trying to edit their own podcasts because the majority of us want to be podcasters, not audio engineers. It’s a different skill set. We definitely brought on an audio editor pretty early, I’d say in the first three months.

And then we brought on our VA, who’s still with us after about a year, I believe. But for that first year, it was me and my co-host, the VA came on after a year, and then the audio engineer, as far as I remember. And then my co-host left after a year. A really dramatic moment and I won’t necessarily go into the details, but I made the decision that I knew that All Ears English had something special.

There was something special here and it’s still here. I went with my gut to keep it going, to continue the show, and to go ahead and hire my co-host. At that time, after about a year and a half, I said, Nope, All Ears English is going to continue. So I hired two co-hosts, and the second co-host happened to be an expert in an exam that we eventually built an online course for. We launched another podcast with her and built a course which was our first major revenue stream, which is great. And then with the other co-host I hired, she’s been my main cohost since then.

 And I think the key takeaway here is to learn as you go. That’s the key. It can never be reliant. It’s hard because podcasting is a personality-based thing, but we want to try to make sure it’s never reliant on one single person, even myself. At some point, it would be good to be able to get someone else filling in.

Anne: Speaking of finances, how was it for you to hire, a sound engineer or an editor before the podcast was making any money? Because you mentioned that the course that you launched was like your first big income stream?  

Lindsay: Yup. 

Anne: I hear it all the time, but podcasts say they cannot hire someone yet because their podcast is not making money. What is your idea about this? What would you tell other podcasts?

Lindsay: Yeah. So two things. I’ve always believed that you need to take a little bit of risk in life to actually do something great. Like if you don’t take any risk whatsoever, nothing’s gonna come of it. And that’s been kind of drilled into me from my dad because he was a small business owner. And that’s kind of in my mentality. 

I’ll put a little bit of money on the line to get something bigger and better and amazing. But my second point is that honestly if you go on Upwork, I mean, this was the case. We’ve had our editor for years and years and years, and he’s quite affordable and he’s good.

He’s fast. He’s amazing. And we take good care of him. If you go on Upwork, you should be able to find relatively affordable audio editors. So look around, you should be able to find someone and lock them in and take good care of them, but you don’t need to spend a hundred bucks an hour.

How To Monetize A Podcast

Anne: You mentioned that the course was the first real podcast monetization strategy, or that worked at least. Can you tell us more about how you used the podcast to also make money? 

Lindsay: It was actually the third thing we did, our course. The first thing we did was we started selling our transcripts, which makes total sense because our audience is learning English as a second language. And actually, we still sell our transcripts. But even though there are so many transcription tools out there, there’s something very special about getting a curated professional PDF booklet for all the episodes and delivered weekly to your inbox on Monday morning.

It’s packaging, it’s professionalism. We’ve always had subscribers for our transcripts and that has been a steady revenue stream.

It brought in a couple of hundred dollars a month. And then around the first year, our first sponsor reached out to us. We worked with that sponsor for a number of years. We had a good relationship with them. We had a method that worked, and so we were able to increase our sponsorship gradually.

And then, in 2015 Spring, we launched our first big online course with the help of my employee, Jessica, who was an expert in the subject matter of the course.

Anne: The other thing that I also heard you say in your monetization strategy is that you work with a sponsor and you also had, or have your own products. 

Lindsay: Oh yeah. I would never do either or I would never do just one of them. I would always build out the opportunity for both. I mean, we can’t put all our eggs in one basket and that is a good point with the sponsorship. Always developing the relationship, looking ahead to next month’s campaign.

But I would say with that strategy, that really works best when you’re in a direct sales relationship, which is obviously the best situation. You’re direct selling to that sponsor. If you’re going through a network or through a programmatic, you obviously don’t have as much clout because the people running the network are kind of doing that negotiation for you. They’re taking some money off the top. So try to have direct sales and diversify that way too, in addition to programmatic. So now we’re getting into sponsoring, but diversifying I think is the key.

How Lindsay Grew Her Podcast To 8 Million Listens Per Month

Yeah, it’s 8 million downloads a month across our entire catalog. A couple of things that we have done and that I would recommend, you need to have cover art. One thing that we did very early on is have the two of us together on the cover for the cover art. And that was actually kind of unique at that time.

Now everyone has their face on their cover art, but not at that time and not ESL teachers. For some reason, some people have kind of stayed hidden behind words,  Like people didn’t want to become personality brands in ESL. Maybe they thought it was out of integrity with teaching. But at that time we were just back-to-back right there. Two young women ready to teach you ready to engage you. You are going to listen to a human being. 

The color we used was yellow, which I felt was too flashy or something, but it was a good decision. It doesn’t mean everyone should have bright yellow cover art, but colors that stick out definitely draw the eye. And then, what ends up happening is you ride that spiral in a positive cycle. So someone downloads and then it leads to more. 

The other thing that helped us a lot was publishing frequently instead of once a week or twice a month, four times a week obviously just puts more content out there so you can have more downloads and more subscriptions, which begets more of all of that.

Lindsay: Another tip, doing cross promos. So dynamically inserting cross promos, where I have a deal with another podcaster for X number of impressions that his or her promo will hit, and then we take it out of the episode. That is interesting. I’m curious to see how that works as we’re getting started with that now. 

Anne: Yeah, very interesting. I have heard some of these, maybe like swaps where you point to each other’s podcasts. Like, Hey, go listen to that one, if you like this podcast, but I’ve never tried it out myself. So I think I need to ask you back on a podcast and a few months so that you can tell us more about how does it go?

Lindsay: For sure. That’d be a great topic for a show. Absolutely. I will let you know. So I’m just experimenting with that. Now we did our first one, and the results we saw from that were marginal, but you know, to be honest, we’re a big show. So it can be hard to find shows that are at the same number of downloads to match it.

Anne: Cool sounds good, Lindsay, thank you so much for sharing all your podcast, monetization, and growth tabs. It was great hearing how you started a podcast, and how it developed over nine years and 2000 episodes. I learned a lot from today!

About Lindsay McMahon

Lindsay Mcmahon is the co-host of the All Ears English podcast, which is downloaded 8 million times per month and has been ranked in the best of apple podcasts categories in 2018 and 2019. She has also been number one in US education language courses. Lindsay and her team have been featured in Podcast Magazine, Language Magazine, and Forbes. 

Connect with Lindsay

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Resource mentioned:

Podcast Monetization 101

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