The power of a podcast is undeniable. Podcasting is a powerful way to connect with your audience. It’s a great tool for building trust and establishing yourself as an authority in your field.
If you have a business, podcasting can help you build relationships with potential customers and clients. If you’re an author, a podcast can help you build an audience before the book launch date.
The beauty of podcasting, especially for small businesses, is that it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to implement. You don’t have to be a celebrity or have a big budget to make an impact on your audience. It also gives you an opportunity to speak directly with your customers on a personal level, which can help build trust and strengthen customer loyalty.
Introducing Dr. Sherry Walling, Host of the Zen Founder Podcast
Dr. Sherry Walling is a clinical psychologist, speaker, podcaster, author, and mental health advocate. Her company, Zen Founder, helps entrepreneurs and leaders navigate changes in the rapid growth phase of their lives. She’s also the host of the Zen Founder podcast, which has more than 1 Million downloads, as well as Mind Curious, a podcast that explores innovations in mental health.
In our conversation, Sherry talked to me about:
How podcasting has helped her to connect with her audience, grow her business, and stand out from the crowd.
How to stay consistent with your podcast
The intangible benefits of podcasting
Sherry’s Humble Podcast Beginnings
Anne: Hello and welcome to a new episode. I am very excited to be here today with Dr. Sherry Walling. She is the host of the Zen Founder podcast. She also wrote a book and does all these different things. So Sherry, why don’t you just introduce yourself a little bit and tell us more about what you do?
Sherry: Sure. So my professional life, I’m a clinical psychologist, but I’ve been writing, podcasting, and kind of spreading big conversations around mental health among entrepreneurs. That’s sort of the place in the world where I occupy space and like to host conversations on that topic. I also am a parent. I have two almost teenage sons, 15 and 11. And, I’m a circus artist in my spare time. That’s a little bit of a snippet about who I am.
Anne: Very cool. So how does the podcast fit into all of these different things that you do? Being a mother, a circus artist, and a clinical psychologist, when did you decide I want to podcast?
Sherry: Well, I had a very traditional job. I was a university professor. It’s a job that I worked really hard for. I really loved teaching, I loved interacting with students. But the job wasn’t a very good fit for me in reality. I was kind of overwhelmed by all of the meetings and just the sort of obligations of being in that role that I just didn’t love. So it was a really hard process to decide to resign but eventually, I did. So I’m like the world’s youngest retired professor.
But after I left that position, I realized that I still wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to use my voice to spread ideas and thoughts and kind of share what I was thinking about. This was like 2013 so podcasts were just beginning to be a thing. I started a podcast right after I left that was actually about motherhood. It was called Parenting Reimagined. It was about parenting and really filling that void. I wanted to talk to interesting people, explore ideas, and put those ideas out in the world. Podcasting was a great place to do that.
Anne: I think it’s so cool that you. Like you took this other part of your life. It was not about anything that you did in your professional life, but more about what was going on in your own life back then. Right?
Sherry: Yes, I think that’s sort of my story with podcasting to be honest, like the podcasts that I’ve been part of. So I did Parenting Reimagined, maybe for a year or so, and then I felt sort of done with that. Then I started Zen Founder a couple of years later in 2015. That was a podcast focused on mental health among entrepreneurs. But every phase of podcasts life for me has gone along with or been a kind of augmentation to what was happening in my private and professional life so o you can see the shifts. For many years, I did the podcast every week, just like very regularly. And then, there were phases where I moved to just twice a month because I was busy or things were happening in my life that I needed an adjustment, and so the podcast paralleled that.
On Achieving Over 1 Million Downloads
Anne: Yes, that makes sense. So I saw that on Zen Founder, you have over 300 episodes. You have over 1 million downloads which is insane. We were just talking about this before we hit record. I think it’s such a milestone that so many podcasters work towards. You kind of said something about this already that you switched up the consistency of the podcast a little bit, but how did you manage to release more than 300 episodes over so many years? How did you just keep going?
Sherry: That’s a good question. I asked myself that all the time. Yes. On one hand, I’m married to a man named Rob Walling, who is also a podcaster. He has a podcast called Startups for the Rest of Us, which I think just crossed over 600 episodes, and he’s been also doing it for a very long time. So I’ve got this lovely accountability partner built into my home, who is really good at consistent execution. He does an episode every week. I think he was honestly like a really good role model and teacher for me as I was getting started to just have the rhythm of delivering something every week. And so, there are different philosophies of this.
Some people craft these beautiful seasons. I worked on another podcast called Mind Curious that I did for a health startup company. And for that show, we did these beautiful seasons, sort of packaged, had the story arcs, but we only did a few of them. Really high quality, highly edited, really beautiful. For Zen Founder, it’s a little bit more of the execution every week. And so, some of them are not awesome. Some of them are cringe-worthy, especially the early ones, I go back and listen, and I’m like, “Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe I put this out in the world.” The consistent delivery and just doing it every week meant that it got better over time, first of all, which is helpful. And two, it just means that there’s a body of work, like lots of episodes, lots of practice.
Different Strategies for Different Goals
Anne: So do you would you say that the secret to releasing so many episodes is to just keep doing it? And probably weekly would be best? Because if you would work in seasons, maybe it would get you out of that routine of creating this content?
Sherry: I think it really depends on what you’re trying to do with your podcast, to be honest, right? So if you are setting yourself up or your desire is that your voice is a really consistent part of the conversation, and you just want to be out there all the time, then an every-week strategy makes sense. If you want to craft something that’s more artistic like more storytelling based then I think a season’s model doesn’t make sense.
But again, you’re going over the quantity versus quality. It’s not exactly a dichotomy. But you’re thinking about which of those knobs you want to turn up or down when you’re thinking about your strategy. And for me, the discipline of doing it every week was just helpful. It was just built into the rhythm of my work life.
Anne: Yes. I also think seasons are awesome if you want to nurture the people that are already in your audience. Because they are like, “Oh, cool. There’s an episode and I can listen to this person that I already follow or I can discover this long-form content.” But if you really want to build an audience from scratch, I usually recommend my clients to release really consistently either weekly or bi-weekly, but at least two episodes a month for a longer time, because that is when changes are going to happen eventually, where more and more people will find your podcast and where you will also get that snowball effect where people can also go back to older episodes.
And of course, it also works when you work in seasons. It’s not necessarily good and bad or black and white. You can do what you want, of course, but that’s also a little bit of what you’re saying that different strategies work with different goals.
Sherry: Yes. And I think who you are as a person, right? Some people really like doing batch interviews. They’ll spend two days just doing a deep dive and having all of these conversations, scheduling out all of their episodes for either season or just a period of time. And I don’t do that, like I just, every week, just carved out on my Monday to do something for the podcast. And of course, sometimes I plan ahead and have different guests and slot those in. But the weekly nature of it works better for my schedule in life.
Anne: Yes. I think that also definitely makes sense. You just have that time. I also like to batch sometimes for Podcast Babes. We have seasons for my other podcast, The Digital Nomad Stories. I release episodes every week but I still work in advance. And then, sometimes I don’t have to do anything for a while. Then I kind of I don’t want to say for gaps but I know that at some point, I need to start recording again. And then, usually, this moment comes where it hits me like I need to record right now. So yes, I definitely understand that it can be really nice to just have that day of the week or a time block carved out in your calendar. This is my podcast time and I just record every week at this time. That definitely makes sense.
Let Go of Your Expectations and Just Get Started
Anne: So Sherry how was the first time releasing weekly content for you in terms of how your audience grow? Did you have an audience before you start started a podcast or did you start from almost zero?
Sherry: I gave a talk at a conference about mental health among entrepreneurs. That talk happened in 2015, a long time ago. And it really captured people’s imagination because I’m sure people had been talking about it, but there wasn’t much open conversation around the kind of mental health challenges that entrepreneurs were experiencing. And so, the podcast kind of sprang from the top park. I had I guess a little band of interested folks.
I had been doing things in public. I had been speaking. I had been writing. So people kind of knew who I was. And then my husband with Startups for the Rest of Us already had a really well-established following. He joined me for the podcast at the very beginning. So we kind of grabbed his audience too. But in terms of establishing my voice as a podcaster, in this area of expertise, yes, I had to not start from scratch, but from a slow running, start a jog.
Anne: So how was it for you because I know that so many podcasters start a podcast and they’re super excited like, “Oh, this is a new thing. This is going to be big. This is going to be awesome. But then, after the initial few weeks, maybe to a few months, it’s not as new anymore. And I know that a lot of people, including myself, might get discouraged. Maybe they’re not seeing the growth that they want to see in their audience. Maybe there are no sponsors banging on the door yet. Like we all have these big expectations usually. How was that for you? Did you ever feel bad? How did you overcome that?
Sherry: On one hand, I think I picked a topic that people really wanted to talk about. So I was able to access some wonderful guests. I was very excited by the conversations. I liked talking to my guests. I liked diving into the topics which helped a lot, right? I wasn’t bored. I was learning. I was interested. I was making great connections.
And so, I think that was the thing that my own intellectual curiosity kind of kept me going through those early phases. And then, of course, you get enough traction and you become part of the conversation in a way that is more satisfying. So it was internally satisfying at first. And then, it was externally satisfying when my audience was responding and interacting with me.
Anne: Yes. I love this. I think that is maybe key to that initial stage when you enjoy the process so much of just creating the content. It almost doesn’t matter that there are not that many people listening yet because you just do it for yourself. And that it’s also at least easier to keep going.
Sherry: I think it’s helpful to have low expectations and to treat it as an experiment. Now, the podcast is a cornerstone of my brand and my work. But it didn’t start that way. It started as a thing I was doing, which doesn’t mean I didn’t take it seriously, but it doesn’t mean that I didn’t put so much weight on it that it caused me stress. I did it for fun. I didn’t have any big expectations about what would happen to it. And, it turned out that a lot of people liked it. So that’s great.
Everyone’s Journey Is Different so Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Anne: Yes. Did your husband also tell you a little bit about what to expect? Because he had been podcasting already? Or did you see how it was for him that you kind of knew what might happen? That it might be relatively slow? I don’t know if you even had a slow start. But I think sometimes it feels like we have a slow start, right?
Sherry: Thankfully, I just knew a lot of podcasters. And again, this is 2015, before podcasting was as popular as it is now. So I think that was helpful because I had access to people who were doing the same kind of thing. But again, like my mother wasn’t listening to podcasts, podcasts just weren’t as much in the conversation. They were just beginning to be a thing that people listen to and kept track of. I’m a little bit old school, I guess. But that made it easier in the sense that there weren’t so many podcasts and so many people, and I didn’t have high expectations. I was just curious.
Anne: Yes. I think now, it’s also easy to look at our podcasters and see what they accomplished. And then we look at Zen Founder, and we can see, “Oh, Zen Founder has more than 1 million downloads and more than 300 episodes. This is what’s possible and that is the cornerstone of your brand now. So I think when we know it is possible, we kind of also wants to ride.
Sherry: There’s a point of comparison, right? Then you have a standard that you’re comparing your work to but that wasn’t the case for me. There weren’t a lot of podcasts. So I didn’t have the pressure of comparison at that point, but I still feel that right. I look at Brene Brown’s podcast and I’m like, “Oh, everybody listens to that.”
Anne: But there’s always someone with more downloads. There’s always someone with a bigger brand, bigger podcast, and bigger audience. Does that matter to you? Are you still really focused on growing the podcast? Or is it not as important to you?
The Intangible Benefits of Having a Podcast
Sherry: There are several ways to answer this. So on one hand, I definitely want to use my time and energy. Well. The podcast needs to be effective at being a top-of-funnel outreach for my company. I also have just written a second book. So the podcast kind of helped to promote the book loosely by just helping to promote my visibility.
But the other thing that’s interesting is that everyone who works with me and my consulting company, almost everyone, has met me at an event or has read my book. I don’t think a lot of people actually come my way and pay me money from the podcast. The podcasts may be how they hear about the book or how they invite me for a speaking gig. I like to break this down because, over time, I’ve really come to understand the podcast’s role in my business. The podcast doesn’t generate money for me. It just doesn’t. But it creates a general sense of brand awareness and a body of work. So someone who’s thinking about hiring me can go to my website and see 300 episodes and who I’ve talked to and the topics I’ve addressed, and they can see, “Okay, you’ve been thinking about this for a long time. You’ve been working on this for a long time.”
So it is a credential. And it is a way that helps me increase my learning because I still use my curiosity in the podcast. But it doesn’t drive revenue for me and that’s okay, I understand where it lives in the scope of the things that I do in my professional life.
Anne: So what would you say to podcasters who are starting a podcast as a lead generator? Would you say it’s not the right platform for it or do you think it can work for other podcasts or businesses, and it really depends on that?
Sherry: I think about it as your public body of work, right? It’s your portfolio. If you want to establish your name as an expert in content writing or whatever it is, having a series of episodes that clearly articulate your perspective about that I think is really valuable. I also use the content from the podcast to write my first book, essentially. The first book has really well cleaned up transcriptions of a bunch of podcast episodes. So the extent to which you can repurpose content in other places in your outreach, I think is also a really lovely way to use the time and energy.
Anne: Yes. I think that is really good to hear. I also started my podcasts like, “Okay, this is what I’m going to use to attract clients into my business.” And what I realized, this is the 60s that we’re doing now is that it’s not really like the top of the funnel. For me, at least, it is more so that people who are interested can find out more. People usually don’t find my podcast but they find me somewhere else. And then, they’d listen to the podcast and now she knows what she’s talking about. Then you take the next step, which was also surprising for me, because I also thought like, “Oh, everyone’s going to find my podcast and they’re going to go down the rest of the funnel. But that’s just not really what happened for me. And I think for a lot of my clients, it’s actually the same. It’s a really cool way to tell people more about what you do.
Sherry: I’ve had the same experience. It should be called the Tell Me More button, and then you’ve got 300 episodes. Do you want to know what I think about depression? Do you want to know what I think about politics? I think it was like it’s all there. If you really want to do the deep dive, you can. But people will say I heard you speak at an event. I was thinking about working with you. Then I found your podcast and I listened to some episodes. And here I am at that introductory call to talk about a contract of working together. So it’s part of someone’s due diligence about you.
Anne: Absolutely. I do want to mention that one of my newest clients actually found our website via Google. And the only way that has been possible is because we have really well-written show notes on the website, which is great for SEO. So I just wanted to add that to this part of the conversation that it is possible as some kind of like the top of funnel wait for people to find you or because as she was also really powerful that I just wanted to add that here. I think it’s also good to know that you can definitely use it for it, but it’s kind of different from what we both expected, I think.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect, So Just Try
Anne: Sherry, can I ask you one last question? Sure. What would you say is the key or main learning that you had over the past 300 Plus episodes of creating your podcast?
Sherry: I don’t know that it’s very profound. But the thing that came up for me when you asked me that is just my mental story around JUST TRY. There are definitely times when I’m like, “I have to record a podcast. I have to get it to my editor.” I don’t know what to say. And I feel like I don’t have anything interesting. Like just you get in your own head about whether there you have value to bring. I think that the mental game for me has been to come back to that very simple phrase of just try. Just plug in the mic, just send that email to that really difficult-to-get guest, and just try.
So I think the podcast has been a really good teacher for me in my own professional growth. It’s not even that I’m taking big risks. But it’s a practice in silencing the negative voices in my head that might otherwise say, you don’t have anything interesting to say or that guest is never going to respond to you. Nobody’s ever going to listen to this. We all have those negative stories, but the discipline during the podcast is the discipline of practicing trying over and over and over and showing up to the work even if you don’t always feel like it.
Anne: Great answer. I think that’s what we all have to hear sometimes. Just try. It also means that it doesn’t have to be perfect, right? Just try and do your best. That’s all you can do, right?
Sherry: Yes. I think that’s been the value of just shipping it and then being committed to publishing something, even if it’s not perfect, is also really helpful. It’s a helpful practice.
Get in Touch with Sherry
Anne: Thank you so much for sharing this. It was so good to hear about how you reached this awesome milestone of 1 million downloads, wanting to get on episodes, to learn more about your podcast journey. I learned a lot from you. And I know that our audience today will have the same experience. So thank you so much for coming on the podcast.
Sherry: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Anne: Can you tell us where people can find the podcast and where they can learn more about you and your work?
Sherry: Yes. My podcast is called Zen Founder, Z E N Founder. And it’s Zenfounder.com. I also have a new book coming out, which is called Touching Two Worlds. And people can find that at touchingtwoworlds.com. And I’m on Instagram and Twitter, @SherryWalling.
Anne: Cool. We’ll also add all the links to the show notes. So you can go there, check out the book, check out the podcast, and follow sherry. And yes, thank you so much for being here today, Sherry.
Sherry: Thanks, Anne.
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