Can I pick your brains?

Since I started working in this field, there is one question I get asked more than any other. “Can I pick your brains about podcasting?” Often, it’s accompanied by an offer to buy me a coffee in exchange for an hour or so of advice about equipment, software, editing, hosting, distribution, audience growth, branding, the lot. I know this happens a lot to freelancers in general — people presuming on acquaintanceship to get free consultancy happens in all industries — but I think there’s a few reasons why it’s happening a lot in podcasting at the moment.

To start with, having a podcast has become “cool” and “on trend”. (I hate myself for even writing this.) Since Serial got lots of coverage, yawn etc etc, more people and companies are suddenly aware of this additional online distribution channel for content. Yet for the vast majority of wannabe podcasters, their show isn’t actually a viable business proposition — especially if they’re in the UK, say, where the advertising market is not very big. Hence the need to scam free advice to get off the ground. (Never mind that the vast majority of questions I get asked could be answered with a bit of searching and reading online. There are a lot of good, free resources out there.)

Then there’s the fact that podcasting, for a long time, was primarily an amateur endeavour. Even though a lot of the podcasts that people listen to these days are produced professionally, there’s still this persistent narrative that pretty much anyone can turn on-demand audio into their full time job without much effort (this is not true, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, making a success of a podcast requires a lot of hard work and skill).

Somehow, the fact that podcasting happens on the internet seems to make some people think it therefore doesn’t operate by the same rules as other forms of work. I always try and respond politely to people asking for free advice, but I rarely have time to meet them so tend to send links to good resources and kindly suggest that they can pay for further consultancy if they want it. More than once I’ve received responses from people baffled that they should pay money to talk about something that will happen only online/in people’s phones.

I didn’t mean this to become a moan: I don’t mind people asking me for help, as long as they also accept that I’m not going to work for them for free. But I do think that as podcasting grows as an industry and transitions more into a professional pastime, we all need to be a little more mindful of what we’re asking of each other.


Maybe this was not a good topic for this forum — you are all excellent people who have chosen to pay money for something that you value! (Hello to new subscribers who joined in my Easter weekend sale, it’s nice to have you on board.) This newsletter is entirely supported by your paid subscriptions, so thank you very much for that. If you feel like helping out in another way as well, please do recommend the newsletter to friends or via social media: the link is podmail.substack.com/subscribe. Thank you!