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The Importance Of Planning When Producing Your Podcast

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One of the many fun things about “making a plan” is that once you have your baseline, it’s very easy to go beyond that and find something magical. But recently, I’ve been using the power of planning to do something else. To make sure my podcast went out when I had no idea what I was going to do.

Some background is needed for this one. Firstly about the podcast, and then why the pre-existing plan was so important because of, well, life.

This was my eighth year of covering the Edinburgh Festival Fringe through a daily audio podcast. The Fringe itself is mind-bogglingly huge (42,000 performances by 2,695 shows, almost 280 stages), and many years ago I wondered if one podcaster could cover enough of the Fringe to make a daily show feel comprehensive.

The clue, of course, is that eight years later I’m still doing the show to critical acclaim. This year I put out 26 episodes, each running over 40 minutes, the majority of them having four guests and a musical number (preferably recorded live) to finish the show. It’s not an easy show to put together, as it all needs to be recorded around Edinburgh, between all the shows, and then of course edited and social media’ed every day to succeed.

And I look forward to it every single year.

Except this year. 2012 has seen a little complication. The month or two that I would normally spend researching and prepping for the August run was taken up with far more important matters at home – #BlameVikkisCancer. For anyone keeping track, Vikki’s operation was a success, but with the Fringe approaching, I was facing a blank sheet of paper.

Here’s where the power of planning came in very useful, because I reached back to 2011 for all the planning documents, notes, and diary schedules from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Show. While the names were different, and the days were a little bit out of sync, this was something that I could simply trust that would let me deliver.

“Follow the plan, and the show will follow,” was my mantra at the end of July as I organized the interviews, reached out to various PR people, booked in shows to review, and sorted out the cross promotion arrangements with other sites. As I followed my diary and reports from 2011, if it happened last year on Wednesday 27th July, it was done on Wednesday 25th July this year.

Would this make for a show with any new ideas for 2012, that would really push the format boundary out? Probably not. But it would deliver a show, which was vitally important as the show is a co-production with The Stage newspaper and I had made the commitment to them many months ago.

It also matches up with one of my philosophies – every show needs a constant. In the case of the Edinburgh Fringe podcast this is myself, as the host. I’m the one conducting the interviews, reading the news, the voice that people would come back for.

The other constant is the structure of the show. It’s no coincidence that the format of the show follows the late night chat show template pioneered by Johnny Carson. That means the show itself was able to use all the same production notes, jingle beds, and interview grid layout as last year.

Because I had a well thought out plan that I could follow, I was able to build the foundations of the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Podcast while my brain, frankly, was focused elsewhere. Each morning, when I came to produce that day’s show, there were more than enough interviews and musical numbers to choose from, and I could focus on putting together and presenting some great content.

All because I had a pretty comprehensive plan.

Making a plan is essential, not just for a business or starting up a new website, podcast, or blog, but for every project you do. And not just a few headers, really sit down, think through every element, document it, and make sure it’s clear enough for others to read and understand, yes even yourself in twelve months time!

Was I expecting to use the 2011 plan in 2012? Not particularly, but I’m glad I could.

And the results? Why not listen for yourself.

How to Schedule Posts Effectively

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Today is July 4, which means it’s a holiday in the United States. Every year, Americans across the country set off fireworks, grill burgers, and enjoy time with friends and family to celebrate our nation’s holiday. So, while you’re seeing this new post from me, I’m not actually here. I’m out enjoying the day, probably in the pool with my sister.

Yep, this post was scheduled.

Whenever anything in the world of new media is automated in any way, people get the heebie-jeebies. Yet, scheduling posts usually gets a free pass. In fact, some of the same people who rant about auto-DMs and scheduled tweets give pre-writing and scheduling posts and big thumbs up.

And I agree with them. I schedule a lot of the posts here on the NMX blog, actually, as well as on my own blogs. That said, there’s a good way to schedule posts and a bad way to schedule posts. Many bloggers out there are not scheduling posts effectively.

Maintaining the Broader Schedule

First and foremost, when it comes to post scheduling, you need to be thinking about your content in a much broader way. Scheduling a post because you’ll be away from your computer is fine, but how does this fit into your overall editorial calendar?

If your answer to that question is, “I don’t have an editorial calendar,” you might want to rethink your blogging activities a bit.

No, having an editorial calendar doesn’t mean you have to write or even come up with post ideas in advance. But what it does allow you to do is:

  1. Make sure your content is spread out evenly, rather than being bunched up over the course of a few days (and then nothing for a long period of time)
  2. Make sure you are writing about a variety of topics in your niche, rather than covering the same topic too often and ignoring other topics

The visual representation of your posts on a calendar helps you understand blogging habits you might have never noticed otherwise, and you can more easily see gaps that need to be filled. here on the NMX blog, we use a plugin to maintain the editorial calendar, but even a simple note in your day planner (digital or paper) can help.

Scheduling Fluff

After getting an editorial calendar set up, you still have the task of scheduling posts when you’re going to be away from the computer. Most bloggers are already doing this, and one of the most common mistakes I see is scheduling “fluff.”

In the world of freelance writing, a “fluffy” piece is written with as many words as possible just to make wordcount. You care less about the content and the language and more about just getting something written. A lot of bloggers post this kind of fluff on their blog when they’re going to be away just to have something posted.

A huge picture of an America flag with the words “Happy 4th of July” is a good example fluff. Yet I’m sure that blogs across the Internet are auto-posting that as we speak (if they haven’t already). Before posting anything, ask yourself:

  • What does my reader gain from this post?
  • Would I post this content on a day I was actually here or is it only “good enough” because I’m scheduling it?
  • Does the post enhance my community in any way?
  • Will readers feel compelled to comment?
  • Am I proud of this post?

Do not kid yourself and say, “But I wanted to wish my readers a happy fourth of July!” If that’s the case, do it with a personal message on your blog in a post about what the holiday means to you. Or do it at the beginning of a post that is similar to what you would publish any other day of the year. Or skip posting and simply Tweet your message. When you schedule something half-assed, all it says is, “I don’t really care about my blog because I’m off having fun.” If you’re a photo blog, go ahead a post a picture of a flag. If you normally write long in-depth pieces analyzing the news in your niche, save me the pity post and just enjoy the day.

Stay on Top of Your Scheduling

Just because you schedule something doesn’t mean you can forget all about it. This can lead to disaster. For example, let’s say that you schedule a post about Twitter while you’re away on vacation. Before it goes live, there’s a major announcement that Twitter has been sold to Facebook! While every other blog is covering this major story, your post about “How Twitter is Better Than Facebook” goes live, making you look silly in the process.

Forgetting about your scheduled posts can even be downright offensive. For example, if you schedule a post that quotes or analyzes someone famous and that person dies the morning before it goes live, you can seem insensitive or tacky.

Mistakes happen. You shouldn’t avoid scheduling a post simply because some kind of disaster or change could happen. But if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time, keep track of what will be going up when and check in occasionally. If something is published at an inopportune time, you want to be around to take it down as soon as you can, rather than letting snarky comments about it build over the course of days or even weeks.

If you can, it also helps to have someone you trust watch out for your blog. That way, they can log in and take down any poorly-scheduled post or deal with other problems while you’re gone.

Don’t Fear the Schedule Button

Scheduling can be quite liberating, so despite the rest of this post, I hope you aren’t afraid of that scheduling button. You just have to be thoughtful about how you use it and responsible about maintaining your blog even if you have scheduled posts ready to be published when you’re not around.

As for me, I’m happily splashing around right now and thanking the blogging gods that scheduling is possible. It’s a great tool as long as you use it wisely. Happy 4th, everyone!

Conquering the Blogger To-Do List

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We all have them – those mental to-do lists of things that never seem to get done. How many times have you been having a conversation with another blogger who’s telling you about something they’ve recently done only to respond with, “Yeah, I really need to get around to that.”

Only problem? We rarely actually get around to those things. The real kicker is that a lot of stuff on our to-do lists are actually items that don’t take much time or effort to do. You know, stuff like making sure your blog has a mobile version or adding a mailing list sign-up form on your sidebar. Tasks that only take a few minutes, but that make us want to throw temper tantrums, kind of like when you tell the kids to go brush their teeth. It’s inexplicable, but that’s the sad truth. They never seem to get off the to-do list.

Unless you’re motivated.

Today, I wanted to talk about getting motivated to conquer that list. As your weekend dies down, this is the perfect opportunity to start your Monday off on the right foot. It doesn’t matter how busy your schedule might be – you can kick this list to the curb. Here’s how:

Step One: Write down the tasks  you have to do.

Often, we forget about all the little stuff that we should be doing simply because they’re out of sight, out of mind. Sit down and actually pen a list. I like to actually write it on a piece of paper, but you can also use notepad on your computer or even a note-taking ap on your phone/iPad. Don’t include the daily tasks that you do already, projects you’re working on, etc. Just include all the little crap that you have to do that you usually don’t.

Step Two: Break down the tasks even farther.

Look at each task you have to do and break it down into a bunch of steps. For example, let’s say one of your tasks is creating a mailing list for your blog. Your individual steps for that task could include researching your mailing list options, signing up for one of them, setting up your account, creating a sign-up form, and adding the code to your blog sidebar. Do this for each task on your list so you have a really huge list of really simple steps.

Step Three: Label each step with a time.

How long will it take you to do each step? Most of the time, you’ll find that the answer is 5 – 10 minutes, though for some, your answer may be a little longer. Regardless, write an estimated time beside each task.

Step Four: Every day, do at least one or two steps.

You have five minutes while you’re waiting for something to download. Do a step. Adding ten minutes before you stop working for the day isn’t much. Do a step. You typically waste over an hour on Twitter at night…instead, do a step. Step by step, you’ll finish everything on your list. Just do something that corresponds with how much time you have whenever you’d typically be wasting time.

Of course, the real kick in the bum is that the list never ends. As you cross things off (which is super gratifying), you’ll think of other things to add to your list, so it will keep growing. That’s okay, because you’ll be moving forward. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you just do a few things every day.

How Schedules Make BlogWorld Better

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Last fall, BlogWorld 2010 was my first real industry event (at least, when it comes to the blogging/new media industry). I went into the event with a list of people I wanted to meet, a schedule of the sessions and parties I wanted to attend, and a plan for the work I wanted to get done while there.

By day two, that had all gone to hell.

Part of the reason was that I was overwhelmed as a newbie to the conference scene and part of that was…well…the fact that conferences are just like that. The best laid plans get derailed by random meet-ups, the need for naps, and more.

As things began to wind down and I returned home, reflecting on my experience at BlogWorld, I realized that I should have spent less time feeling obligated to do as much as possible and more time doing a few things really well. Meet fewer people, but really get to know them. Attend fewer sessions, but really take a lot away from each one. Start fewer posts, but actually finish them and publish them before the event even ends.

But just because I didn’t stick to my schedule religiously (or at all, by the end of BlogWorld) doesn’t meant that they are worthless. In fact, I’ll likely be planning out my BlogWorld NY 2011 schedule in the weeks leading up to the event just like I did for BlogWorld 2010 (check out Sched for an interactive way to plan which sessions you’re attending). Here’s why I believe schedules, even loose ones, can make BlogWorld better:

  • You don’t miss the most important events.

At BlogWorld, or any conference for that matter, it is easy to lose track of time. When you have a schedule, you’re reminded of the can’t-miss events that are happening, like a keynote address you really wanted to see or a tweet-up that you really wanted to attend. By all means, have a cup of coffee with a friend or spontaneously go sight-seeing in the city with some people you just met – but don’t do so at the expense of missing something conference-related that you really wanted to do.

  • You have something to fill your free time.

Free time? What’s that?

Believe it or not, you will have “free time,” so to speak, when you attend a conference like BlogWorld. By free time, I don’t mean that there’s nothing to do – there’s always something to do. I mean that there’s nothing pressing to do – none of those must-attend events that I talked about in the last point and nothing spontaneously happening with people you’ve met either. If you have a schedule, you have a plan for that free time.

I like to fill out my schedule to the minute with stuff to do – I mark the sessions/parties I have to attend red, but come up with a schedule of the most interesting sessions/parties for every timeslot, in case I have nothing else to do. This part of the schedule I create can change, but I can also make the most of my time at BlogWorld by always having something to do (and planning out ahead of time what is the best thing to do).

  • Schedules calm the nerves.

I know that most of you aren’t quite as anxious about conferences as I am, but I also know that a lot of bloggers out there are living with panic disorder, anxiety, and other problems that make in-person events difficult. I’ve found that scheduling helps me stay sane. Schedules give me more of a purpose – I feel more in control of the situation. Even if you don’t have social anxiety, but are just a little nervous or intimidated about attending a big event, a schedule can help you feel more prepared.

Not everyone is going to sit down and plan out a BlogWorld schedule like I do; I realize that. But it does pay to at least do a little research and jot down some times if there are specific things you want to do and see while in New York. Otherwise, you could find yourself leaving BlogWorld only to discover that you didn’t get much out of the event.

Avoiding Event Burnout

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People who know me know that I’m a planner, sometimes to the point of obsession. I love to be spontaneous, but I’m a big believer that you can’t do something unplanned if you don’t have an original plan to start.

I’m well aware that most people don’t have me level of anal retentiveness when it comes to making plans. That’s ok. It’s probably even healthy. If nothing else though, make sure you plan one thing while at BlogWorld: Downtime.

While I haven’t attended BlogWorld in the past, I’m not a complete event newbie. No matter what the conference, show, convention, expo, etc., there will always be more to do than you can possibly fit into the time you have. You want to see everything on the show floor. You want to go to every panel. You want to meet and greet with every speaker. And, of course, you want to blog about it all.

I completely understand. I feel the same way.

Yet trying to do everything will only leave you with two feelings. First, you’ll feel overwhelmed. Then, when you figure out that you can’t do everything, you’ll feel like a failure.

What I’d like to suggest is that you actively plan some downtime for yourself to prevent this kind of burnout. Maybe you order room service one night and relax with a bath before heading out to evening activities. Maybe you wake up a hour early and enjoy the paper and a cup of coffee by yourself. Maybe you book a massage while in Vegas and take the time to enjoy pampering yourself for an hour or two.

The point is this: you need some alone time to chill out.

The result? You’ll be more relaxed, seeming less frazzled as you network. Your mind will calm down, making it easier to remember names, appoint times, and other information. You’ll be able to more quickly write posts, since it will be easier to concentrate.

You can’t do everything while at BlogWorld, and no one expects you to (except maybe you!). The key is to what what you can do exceedingly well. You’ll get more out of any event if you focus on excellent in a few things instead of doing everything you possibly can.

I recommend trying to fit in at least an hour of alone time every day while you’re in Vegas. I know that it might now always be possible, so grab what you can – 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there. Just remind yourself that it is ok to skip some events so you have time to cool down. Burnout will only mean that you don’t take full advantage of your trip.

How will you make sure you get time for yourself while at BlogWorld?

Does Post Time Matter?

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As I’m posting this, my time, it is about 11:00 PM on a Friday night. Typically, I try to time my posts here and on other blogs for traditional business hours. As I begin to realize that so many bloggers are located not just on the West Coast of the United States, but in time zones around the world. It makes me wonder – does post time really matter?

The first issue here is whether or not people will ready your post only if they see it right away. If you have a large list of RSS subscribers, I tend to think this is not really an issue, since people will see the new post regardless of how long ago you posted it. On the other hand, I have been known to skim headlines and clear out my feed readers completely without reading everything, just because I didn’t get around to it for a few days and too many old posts built up. Something that is extremely fresh is, in some cases, more likely to get read, since it is the first thing I see. Just call me Two-Face. My opinions on this topic are in direct conflict with one another.

I also sometimes search Google and other news sources by date, which means the most recent posts get more attention from me. So, it does make sense to post during times when there is a higher amount of search traffic for your niche.

If you have readers around the world, though, figuring out when that time is…well, that seems pretty impossible. If you have a niche deeply rooted in local information, of course it makes sense to avoid posting at three in the morning when most of your target market is asleep. Otherwise, checking out your stats to find out where most of your readers live is a good way to figure out when it makes most sense to post. For example, on Binge Gamer, most of the readers are from the United States, so working on United States time makes sense.

Think about your target market, too. Th average reader of a gaming blog is Internet-savvy and often online long after business hours. The average reader of a parenting blog probably isn’t awake and reading blog posts at midnight. So, location isn’t the only thing you have to consider when thinking about post time. I think one of the best ways to check out when your readership is active is looking at their activity on Twitter.

I do have to wonder, though, someone who visits your blog…won’t they read the most recent post on your blog no matter when you last posted, as long as it wasn’t like, a year ago? On the other hand, when something is fresh, it is prime time to promote it on social networks

There have also been studies regarding post day, especially in conjunction with monetizing a blog by launching products. Most people are of the opinion that Tuesday work best, though I know people who have successfully launched products on just about every day of the week.

Personally, I’m not convinced that post time does matter much, as long as you keep two things in mind:

  1. Be consistent. Whether you post three times a week or ten times a day, make sure your readers know what to expect.
  2. Don’t bunch your posts. If you only have time to write on Sunday afternoons, pen five posts and schedule them to go up throughout the week.

I’d love to hear your opinions on this topic. Do you care about post time? Do you think it makes a difference to the success of your blog? How do you determine what times are best for you blog’s post times? I’m split on this topic, so any input you have will help me and the rest of the readers here!

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. She makes no apologies for the geeky comic book reference in this post.

The #1 Secret to Being a More Productive Blogger

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There aren’t enough hours in the day.*

Even if you give up your boring desk job and become a full time blogger, There’s barely enough time to finish doing the things you have to do, let alone the things you want to do for your blog. If you’re anything like me, you could easily spend every moment for your free time working on your blog – social networking, writing posts, designing the website, emailing readers…the to-do list goes on and on.

That doesn’t leave a lot of time for your other passions or hobbies. I make the joke quite often that with Binge Gamer, I spend more time writing about video games than I do actually playing video games.

Imagine that I could teach you one thing. Just one secret that would make you a more productive blogger. You could make one change in your life, right?

Think what you could do with that extra time. What would you do today, if you had the time?

  • Spend more time with your children
  • Take your dog to the park more often.
  • Go on more dates with your spouse or significant other.
  • Take more vacations.
  • Visit your friends more often.
  • Take a class.
  • Attend community events.
  • Try to take over the world.**

You can also take that extra time and do bigger and better things with your blog. Hell, you can even start a second (or third or fourth…) blog. This one tip can add hours to your day. It worked for me, and I’ve seen it work for my friends after I shared the secret with them.

Have I kept you in suspense long enough?

Ok, here we go. My #1 secret to being a more productive blogger is this:
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