Digital Chatter Episode #006: Susan Weeks
Eric: Hello and welcome everyone to another episode of digital chatter. My name is Eric Sharpe and today our wonderful guest is Ms. Susan Weeks. Susan, say hi.
Susan: Hello everybody, nice to speak to you all!
Eric: So Susan is an entrepreneur and she is a podcaster, in fact a professional podcaster. She has been running her business for over five years and helping people develop their podcast. And we’re going to learn a little bit about Susan today and how she got into all of this. But Susan I want you to tell everyone how you got started.
Susan: OK. Yes. Well how I got started is doing something totally different from the podcasts that you said which I am now. So I actually started as a mainframe computer programmer back in the late 80s. At a large car factory in the north of England. And who’d thought that the skills that I learned there which had nothing to do with podcasting but were everything to do with systems and organization and working out the best ways for people to do things. So those skills don’t leave you. And as I progressed through the professional I.T. career progression and also moved companies and finished up running and founding a training organization as well, on well the last place I worked at. And again that’s all to do with helping people and teaching people and helping them be the best that they can be. So I feel that I’m very fortunate in that the skills I developed through my professional career I’ve managed to then build on and transfer over to the Internet world and laterly into podcasting. So that’s kind of in a nutshell where, where I come from. So it’s always interesting I think as to how things change we didn’t expect and to be doing what you, what you finish up doing.
Eric: Sure, sure. And you know maybe maybe walk me back you know 10 plus years ago. You know I know your story a little bit more but walk us back and you know tell us what happened. You know you had some dramatic changes in your life that changed things.
Susan: Yes, somewhat. So and going back to the early 2000s. So by this time I’d worked my way through and from, from my original job at a car factory and for a long time I felt as if I was a square hanging around so basically. I didn’t always feel as though as I fit. The work was fantastically interesting, really really was. But a new startup came into the city where I was working and they were looking for people like me and my friends and colleagues who had those professional skills and specific skills in sort of the mainframe technologies time and they were basically the headhunt because they’d set up an outsourcing organization where people like myself my colleagues who were in the north of England and we didn’t want to go down to the main financial centre in London and particularly we were quite happy with where we were. So a lot of the big- there were actually, the company was working for two or three with the large American investment banks so Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan Chase were two of the main clients.
Susan: So they wanted access to this pool of people so that’s how this company was setup and myself, some other colleagues, and ultimately quite a lot of people were all headhunted and attracted to this new company. And yeah it was it was it was great. There was a lot of opportunity there for interesting work. It came to the point however that we ran out of people to you know to headhunt. So we had to start training people with similar technical experience into the specific technologies that we needed. So there was Stettinius training from Cheneau and had a really, I had a really nice job I had so much freedom I could- and I always said, I couldn’t have as much freedom unless I worked myself.
Susan: But honestly I had the perks of a nice salary, paid holiday, bonuses, etc. So everything was going great. It was really interesting job. However, I do recognise now that yeah I was burnt out. I was heading for burn out. There was, hm, problems with my relationship. My husband actually was also one of the membership team of the particular company as well so..
Eric: Your work was was.. Your home life was at work and vice versa.
Susan: And it always has been as well even from when we were at Nissan together you know it always had been. So this ultimately took its toll, our lives would go in different directions. And I was kind of burnt out trying to do too much, too many things basically. And so yes, it got to the point where I just said “right that’s it I’m just not going to do this anymore”. I need break. So in October 2003 there were some major milestones happened in my life. The first one was that our divorce suddenly went well. And so then that meant moved house so that you know the nice house was going to my forever house, that was sold. And therefore I decided at that point I was going to take a career break. Just have a break and decide kind of what I was going to do next. And I did that. And two weeks after all of that then I also discovered that I was pregnant so that wasn’t part plan. So within a month I did all of those stressful things that everybody talks about individually. I moved house, I got divorced. I left my job and I was pregnant. So then the choice was “what do I do now?”.
Eric: That’s incredible. I mean, you know a lot of people talk about having struggles but you, you literally did it all and within one month.
Susan: Yes. I like to look at it that I got it over and done with, you know. You might as well have the hassle all in one go instead of stringing it out over a number of years.
Eric: It’s a very positive way of thinking about it and I love, I love hearing that from you. Would you mind walking me through, what was it like on the last day of your job and had you decided yet that you were going to leave or what. What. Maybe that last week. What was it like for you.
Susan: I think it was it was one of.. from what I remember feeling. It was one of relief, I think. I said OK I’m I’m free now. And I knew because the house had sold and we were looking at and made money. So I had a capital sum sitting in my bank account. I had, you know, plenty of savings. The one thing about having this excellent job all those years was I had results behind me which made everything so much more achievable. So it wasn’t, it wasn’t a disaster. It was a choice. You know I had chose to make all of those moves. So really I think maybe towards the end it was one of relief and freedom. My plan was to go traveling, I’ll go traveling for a year I’ll go do some volunteer work. And I’m sure my friends thought I’ve gone completely bonkers, really. Thinking where has the sensible person gone? What are you doing? You know. And yeah, you could say it was a midlife crisis.
Eric: And if you don’t mind me, what at what age were you?
Susan: So I was 39, 38 at a time, yes 39. So yeah. So it’s just like you know what, well there’s more to life isn’t there, than sitting there doing the same thing all the time. So I guess it was it was that freedom thing. So even while I was pregnant I actually went and bought another house and I started to get that renovated and tunnels around I went back to spend a couple of times and ultimately then moved over to Ireland. So it was again, choices that I,, it’s always the same thing when you have- when you’re working full time as a job you don’t have to be you know, the time, you got the money but no time. So then the other choice was well I’ll.. The money I’ve got to keep me going you know. I’ll have the time to go and do something else.
Susan: So that’s why, I finished doing that. But the thing was even though I’d officially finished my job I then carried on only like on a consultant basis. A couple of days a week for several months anyway to help the new person to kind of pick the thing up while they recruited somebody. I kind of left and then went straight back in. Just a change in appointment status. It is a great moment. I’m sorry.
Eric: Well that’s great. Well thank you for walking us through that. You know, certainly there are people out there listening to this right now and they have gone through similar struggles and you know what you’ve been through is definitely tremendous to me and I I being an entrepreneur is very difficult. But starting out with- that seemingly uphill battle not even having started a business yet. You were just kind of getting your head clear and just getting things set up so that you can get to this point which is where you are now.
Susan: Yes. And the way that, you know, there was a gap in there, I actually then move to, I said, I moved to Ireland. That’s where my son was born, had two years in Ireland and my partner at the time, he was always the grass is greener on the other side. He’s always looking for the next place to move to. And had itchy feet as we say, so after two years in Ireland we sold up and bought a large RV, a large motor home and toured around Europe for many months. Finished up back in France. And that’s when, right really my son’s two, you need a bed you can’t just keep driving around in vertical. So that’s when I just randomly bought this house in France and started living in France. So my son went to nursery school and school and so forth. And it was after about.. When he started primary school said he was..
Susan: This stuff it starts a bit later in France. Then it’s a question of well what am I going to do now. I hadn’t intended taking a six year career break but that’s what I’ve done and what can I do now. And then that’s when you kind of realise that the choice at that point was the choice between a job at a local supermarket or a job at the chicken factory and because an expat in a rural area of France doesn’t really stand. I could speak French but you’re always at the bottom of the queue for a job let’s face it. So that’s when I thought the internet has moved on significantly in those six years. I do have all of these other professional skills I can leverage. So that’s when I started to look at this idea of you know, a virtual assistant, virtual professional and found a company called VA Classroom here and provides training for virtual assistants and started to take and they had one class at the time which was on Internet marketing and they had another one on social media marketing which in 2008 was quite revolutionary.
Susan: They knew it wasn’t really a job particularly then, you know. Everybody does it now but it was quite a rare thing. So that’s how I got got in my virtual career, was through VA Classroom and I still have a good relationship with them and I’m actually their content marketing mentor now. So it’s kind of come around full circle. So in bringing about my training and development experience as well. And you know the experience I’ve had in the eight years is it online is now nice to be able to be back in and help the company that first helped me get started with my new career. So yeah it’s always an opportunity when you when you look for it.
Eric: That’s true, yeah, you build those connections and you’ve made these relationships happen over the years and then obviously came back to help you. So that’s good to hear.
Susan: It’s, it’s, it’s making those connections and I think as I go through life more and more, connections are increasingly important. And I find, I’m sure you do as well, especially when working virtually. And it’s nice to develop those connections because at the end of the day I think quite often we get more work coming in because of who knows us, you know, rather that you know as well as the kind of the content marketing all the online that we do. Ultimately people still will like to refer people and certainly I get you know a lot of work in through that kinf of personal aspect as well and I’m sure you do as well.
Eric: Well I’d like to know a little bit more about your podcasting and how you went from you know a systems engineer bit more on the systems side and moved into podcasting so tell me, tell me how that came about.
Susan: Yes, so. I’ve taken all my kind of professional analysis and testing and the ideas behind organizing thoughts. So I’m I’m good at, and it’s something I’ve been doing for a long long time is extracting information from people and helping them see that there is a pattern and trend here and this is how it’s all going to flow.
Susan: People don’t often see that. I seem to be able to think.. I think in diagrams so I can help people work out what the next steps are which is what I did all those years ago. You know in my professional career and it’s still what I do when I do now. So as I spent time learning and doing more Internet marketing for people and content marketing and so on. And one of our main clients I’ve now been looking after his podcast for, I think it’s nearly six years now. So I was already doing video marketing with him. He asked me to help help with his podcast, is another form of content marketing so and so I applied the same kind of systems thinking to that and put much more of a flow involved ’cause he was interviewing guests as well which adds a whole new dimension obviously. You’re managing guest as well so you know what it’s like, organizing guests as well as the content so and then what we used to do was to do with his podcast is, he would do the interview and then kind of I did everything else.
Susan: And what does that mean. So that means- actually podcasting is a really good way to create content. So I would create the episode outline for him, you know, the titles, optimize it all. I would create detailed notes. So it was better than a transcript, and a transcription I find it very difficult to read because although the conversation made sense when you listening to it, when you read it often makes no sense at all. So. So I do those kind of back ot the transcription in detail because these are medical interviews. It’s actually all to do with cosmetic surgery so I think 5-6 years I’ve been- I know so much about cosmetic surgery or how it’s- I listened about it which is quite interesting.
Susan: And then of course you can spin that off into articles and we also wrote e-books from that as well. And you know and then it falls into you create memes and tweets and items for social media. So that’s the kind of how the whole systems thing comes into the podcasting side of things.So to say for five years or so I was podcasting, helping support him with his podcast. And then, whithin the space of about three weeks I had three different clients, existing clients asking me a lot about you know what about this podcasting thing. You know, I’d quite like to do that as well. So you know you get those messages.. All of a sudden everything’s saying why don’t you move into podcasting. So I thought about it.
Susan: And at the same time VA Classroom also launched a podcasting class as well. So here’s a good way to learn the nuts and bolts of top of what I’d already, you know, learned and developed over the five years so that was a nice top off. Yeah and the other thing was, is because I’d spent a lot of time working with office helping office to launch their books, lots of video marketing, content marketing in general, SEO, helping people with their Websites. It turns into too many skills to maintain, to market, and people look and say well exactly what do you do about it, you can’t do all of it. Well, I did. So it’s actually it was a nice thing to then say I’m going to niche further now and concentrate and really focus on the podcasting side of things. You know that’s that’s my main niche and where I market. Of course with all the local people. I still get people asking me to do internet marketing jobs as well, you know.
Eric: Sure and I think that’s something important for everyone out there listening to understand is you know, just because you niche market you, you have this very specific thing that you’re going after, doesn’t mean that no one’s going to start asking you questions about this circle surrounding whatever it is you do. So it’s not like you’re saying no to a business you’re just telling people a specific thing that you’re an expert in and they will still continue to come to you for everything around that area. The best part is you get to decide, you know as the entrepreneur as a business owner, whether or not you want to take them on, whether or not you want to outsource it. Whether or not you just want to get them to a friend or another another third party. It’s up to you and you can manage those relationships. But I think as you begin to niche market and as you did with your podcasting, you know, tell me about your experience I mean after you niche marketed you know did things blow up or you know how did it go?
Susan: Well it’s really, a year and a half ago since I decided to really kind of niche down on the podcastings and I’ve had- It’s been one of those kind of up and down things so I’ve been talking to a couple of people in the legal profession as well. So I think professional services is going to be a good niche.
Susan: So at the moment I’ve been helping people at the kind of strategy side of things which is you know what I like to do, and getting them to understand: is podcasting actually for them. And then to say the main one that I’ve still been doing is this cosmetic surgery podcast as well. So I’ve got skirt for a couple more podcasts and to support fully because it’s one of those things where I like to work with a small number of people in a kind of the deep and long term way and end of the day, I’m a single mom, I’ve got a 12 year old son. I don’t want to be working every hour that there is to work because I need to have a life as well. So it’s about landing between getting paid and attracting the right kinds of clients and doing the work that is going to the most- again is leveraging, it is all about leverage, leverage, leveraging your time for the best benefit for you and for your clients.
Susan: So it’s an ongoing thing and I think certainly in the UK podcasting is still seen as quite a niche thing. It’s it is quite a male dominated thing there’s- a lot of guys are involved and I think there’s a lot of women could benefit greatly from podcasting. You know there is still a big opportunity there as well but it is one of education. You know I write a lot of blog posts and talk quite often about podcasting as well. Because people- nobody I don’t think, wakes up and says oh I want to have a podcast. What a lot of business silliness of sitting there thinking and worrying about it. I need to be doing some content. Everyone’s talking about content marketing but how am I going to do that.
Susan: It’s, it’s, it’s so time consuming and difficult and I don’t have a team etc. So I’m really starting to now niche down the message even more which is podcasting is a really good way to easily generate content that can be, could be leveraged you know. Somebody can spare half an hour to interview somebody and then somebody like me does not only the podcasting side of things but then leverages that content to create the blog posts, to create articles, which could be put into an e-book and do do some tweets and Instagram pictures like what I’ve been doing for my main clients. Then, what’s not to like. It’s, it’s an easy thing isn’t it. It’s a bit of a no brainer. Did a half-hour interview and everything else is done and you’ve got your content marketing machine you know ongoing so that’s that’s kind of my, you know, even deeper and even deeper foccus. So the moment is one of as much education as well I think.
Eric: Perfect. And you know, speaking of waking up in the morning and doing what you do. Why do you do all this, as in what you know what’s the purpose behind all this. What do you stand for?
Susan: The main purpose behind all of this Eric is definitely to show my son and he’s 12, is to show my son that there are different ways in this world of earning a living. You know, I mean one of the reasons why I left France – we’ve been back in the UK for 3 and a half years now – and was being bilingual wasn’t serving him. He does struggle at school. And as he’s got older you know the work is much more difficult as you go through. His struggles have become much more evident, certainly getting to the end of France. So the reason why I left France was to come back to England so he could be educated in one language and to get the support that he required. So moving forward it’s not likely that he will have that great corporate professional career that his mom had. He’s going to tread a different path. But I want him to understand that actually that different path. That’s what it is. It’s different. It’s not inferior, it’s not superior. It’s different and it’s different for everybody. You know kind of probably uniquely amongst the parents his friends, his friends parents may work locally sort of the main commute to our nearest city but they all work for somebody else. While he’s thumping you know 5 is understood that actually most days, most days in front of a computer mom talks to people on the screen, mom puts the headphones on, mom knows everything about computers. ‘Cause obviously he’s 12, he thinks that’s really cool. So you know it’s to give him that viewpoint of the world. The other thing of course was you know, we travelled around a lot with him. By the time he was 8 he’d celebrated Christmas in five different countries. And he’s very interested in geography and language. And just the world around him.
Susan: So he has a different world view already then a lot of his friends who have stayed in a small seaside town since they were born, don’t really go anywhere and have a much narrower view point of the world. So that’s my main thing is to it is a gift for him it sounds a bit trite but you know that’s the main reason why I’m doing it so I’m here for showing him there is a different way these days to earn money.
Eric: That’s absolutely wonderful. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing that. Susan what would you tell yourself ten years ago if you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself or someone like you in a similar situation?
Susan: I would say that when faced with the, when it feels like everything is kind of crashing around through no fault of your own and you haven’t, you know it’s not, you haven’t done anything wrong. Well you know it’s just – you come to that realization that actually there’s more to life than what I’m doing here. You know we only have one life as well which we can say all the time. But it’s you know it’s true. So you know advice to my former self, as though as that situation was actually there is, there’s always a positive side to things.
Susan: So I was fortunate in that I did have the funds behind me from years of you know savings and earning good money as well. So it wasn’t a disaster in terms of I have no money, you know. That is, it is very difficult for people. But it was one- it’s more a personal journey. So there’s always different ways to look at things. There’s always a lot of positives to take out. We have a choice. You know even though we look at it and think we haven’t got any choices. If you sit down and think about it. Actually the are, there are choices. I chose to stop my, you know stop my work. I chose to go live in France. I chose to start a new business, so I chose to have my son you know it’s all a choice. So the main thing is if you look you do have choices and certainly these days with you know the wonders of the Internet.
Susan: We have so many tools to tell our fingertips literally to be able to explore different ways of earning money than we, than we ever had before. My son doesn’t understand that the job I do now wasn’t really even technically possible 9-10 years ago. It would be had where- we couldn’t do this kind of, we couldn’t do Zoom. We could do video, you know, video conferencing. It was just was a corporate thing and it was expensive and it didn’t work very well. Look at what we’ve got now. We’ve got every tool and tip we could ever possibly want. And you know and so I was kind of laughingly say “Who would’ve thought when I started up the 1988 mainframe programmer that I would finish up specializing in podcasting and online marketing. Who’d have thought it. But there we are, it’s happened. It’s home to lots of other people as well let’s just say you know it’s just it’s- you know you’re doing something yourself Eric, you know, you’ve thread your own path too.
Eric: That is correct. You know, I chose to develop this, I chose to to have different guest and to develop this content because I think it’s important for entrepreneurs stories to get out there you know. Not just the business side of things but definitely exposing a little bit underneath all of that. And I think that really helps inspire other people. And it also generates ideas as well. What we can do to help our business grow.
Susan: It absolutely does, yeah. You know idea generation is fantastic a fantastic way and I think it’s also as well while, whilst you’re you know getting on and living your life, you don’t necessarily understand or think that what you’re doing is anything particularly interesting or inspiring, or that anybody would gain by learning your story. But, you know the last couple of years when, you know, I’ve kind of spoken much more about this. So so many people said well it’s really interesting I wish I’d known that before. I didn’t know a lot about you. I wish I you know I wish I could do something similar. I wish I could leave my job. And so my answer is always well you’ve got so many skills. It’s- the hard part is finding that new that new angle. And that’s the difficult thing. And nobody ever said any of this was easy. It’s not. But it’s very rewarding and it certainly keeps me interested and engaged and happy to be helping people and being able to reach and help people that I would never have been able to help before because we were limited by geography. Now I have clients all over the world. My main podcast client is in Canada. Who would’ve thought it?
Eric: It’s very very interesting the way the world has changed in the last 10 years. Absolutely. But Susan how can people follow you. How can they get in touch with you?
Susan: The main way it would be through my Web site. That’s podcastprogress.com and on there Eric I do have quite a lot now off and blog post particularly where I write about the strategic aspects of starting a podcast the different things to think about. And I’m also kind of in the stages of launching my own which is called “Stitchery Stories” because one of my my hobbies is textile art, the makers call it fiber textile art and embroidery. So I’m launching a podcast called “Stitchery Stories” where I interview a textile artists. Find out more about their work and what inspires them. So that combines my podcasting that I like to do plus my hobby of textiles. So that’s coming soon. It’s been a challenge to get my shy artistic friends to actually want to be interviewed so I didn’t expect to have that kind of challenge. But so yes podcastprogress.com is where you can find me. There’s also a section with different interviews and things that I’ve done. And I did actually have two things that might be of help and of interest to any of your viewers. I keep saying it, I like to be organized so I like using Trello which is a really nice, online, free project management tool, I suppose.
Susan: It’s all about lists. So the other thing I really like is a book called The 12 Week Year which helps you get those projects done. So because I like being organized there’s a book called me 12 Week Year. Yeah I really like and that helps you organize and actually execute those projects that you never quite managed to fit into day to day work. So when I was going through that, I’ve read it many times now I wanted a way of actually controlling the work I was doing so I combined it with Trello and I made some little videos about how I did that with Trello and the 12 week year. It’s been viewed quite a number of times on Youtube now and so that’s one thing that people can sign up for. You may find that help is using Trello on a trial year to manage those projects.
Susan: The other thing is that people that are thinking about starting a podcast and not quite sure where to start. And I have a podcast launched called Planning Kit which I put together which again uses Trello. With all the steps that you would need to go through to launch a podcast so it’s the process that I worked through. And you can copy the Trello board and then list the major steps and then the cards within the day different actions steps. So you know, if somebody wants to have a go, or even just to understand what would be involved. And then possibily work with something like me. All they want to, they can do it all themselves that project board and the videos that go with it, which would help. So I’ll give you the links to those and then people can sign up and use those. I’ve had good feedback, people find it useful. They’re quite basic in their execution but the information within them is useful.
Eric: Sure, well the content is always king. Or queen, in this case.
Susan: Other than that people can connect with me on LinkedIn, Facebook. I’m quite visible. You will find me.
Eric: Perfect! Susan thank you so much, really appreciate your stopping by from across the pond. You’ve been wonderful to chat with. Thank you.
Susan: Been an absolute pleasure, Eric. And again thank you for making the effort to put this together and helping people to share their story and their voice. And you know it’s very much appreciated. I’m looking forward to seeing some of the future interviews you put together as well. Because I’m nosy and I like hearing about people’s stories. Thank you very much, Eric. It’s been a pleasure.
Eric: You’re welcome. See you later.
Susan: Ok then. Bye-bye everybody!