I started a blog post quite a while ago about how I got into making content and our path to getting there. I think going through this is helpful for many, and me as well. There are many times you will doubt your project or wonder if there is something wrong, or even if it is worth doing. By committing the time up front you have the opportunity to work through a lot of those feelings before you even start. It is also the foundation on which you can run any future ideas and changes through to see if they make sense.
I have reviewed my opening documents less and less as time goes on, sure, but that is because it has been internalized. My feelings and direction has remained true to my original vision and even though I have made changes, they have been in line with the original plan and idea. I feel anyone can benefit from having a plan that is mature, well thought out, and even flexible.
I am a kinesthetic learner. This means I am the person who learns best by doing. In school this meant I had best retention when I copied my notes. Now I have found that the act of putting words to paper, digital or otherwise, has helped me gain clarity on issues and get things out of my head when I am being creative, instead of losing them.
That being said I need to see what I am building. I need a blueprint to start from so I can have an idea of what the final product needs to look like. Without this I just work on things as I see fit, which means I do all the fun stuff, and largely forget about the annoying stuff I find not so much fun.
Anyone who has worked for a company has probably encountered the following concepts. If you went through an entrepreneurial endeavor, you probably have even written some, if not all, of these. These documents are key to setting up the structure and framework for the project you are doing. They can be huge, in-depth pieces that are constantly edited, or very static and simple. I think I fall in the middle. All of the documents should be written as if you were to put them at the end of every show you do.
The Mission Statement
This should be your overall goal. It will be the first sieve your ideas go through and should stop anything that doesn’t meet the most basic concept of your project and its goals. This is usually a process that takes time and input from members of your team. Be clear and concise, and if possible brief.
If I was starting a show on how to cook in the kitchen for the average person I might start with bullet points.
Friendly, informal, PG rated
Professional tips for the home
Affordable and approachable
The next step is to hone that idea into a sentence or two. The cleaner this is, the easier it is to remember the mission. I work for a company whose mission statement is 4 words long. How is that for brief?
In our example, it might be something like.....
The Kitchen, Simplified is a weekly show that invites people into my home to see how a professional cooks with common, affordable ingredients, tools and techniques for guests and fun.
This might even make its way onto our business cards!
“Inviting people into my home to see how a professional cooks with common, affordable i ingredients, tools and techniques for guests and fun.”
Vision statements are really an extension of the Mission statement. The goal is to fill in the detail, maybe define some specific ways of doing things, and can be a little more verbose. The goal here is to define more of the setting, and maybe some operational notes as well. This helps guide and direct and can be a little more physical in nature.
If I were to use a painting as an example the Mission might be something as simple as a
A beach at sunset, untouched by humans.
The vision however will fill in the finer points.
A deserted beach with no human touch visible. The color palette will be cool tones, not overly warm. There will be rocky portions on both sides and perhaps some driftwood. The sea will be calm and the painting will invoke calm, serenity, and a cool evening.
The core values are the last filter in our idea sieve. They usually define very clearly what is acceptable and what is not. In a company setting these will usually be non-negotiable that help define and draft codes of conduct for the entire company. I see a lot of people not getting this far, but this is really the heart of your endeavor. This is the last barrier to starting to work an idea up and it should hold true to your core beliefs.
I have arranged my show’s core values around individual topics with a clarifying sentence or two. Here are some highlights from my own Core Values document. I do clarify the points with a few more bullets in each, but I think you get the idea. There is no order of importance here, an idea, tweet, though, must pass through all of this to make it to the final stages. If it doesn’t make it on one point, then it doesn’t go on!
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
Financial & Time Agreements
Let’s face it, time and money will factor into this endeavor at some point. There is software to be purchased, equipment to buy, hours to edit and record, and income may be part of your plan. With that in mind, it is good to define what goes where and who is responsible. If you are fortunate enough to have partners, tracking this is crucial to keeping operations smooth and people from being hurt. Even a basic podcast has basic costs with it.
Draft a document together and decide on these things before you start. If you need to link to a spreadsheet that is kept current, do so. Watch spending and income so you can make sure everyone is holding their parts. As far as legal advice, incorporating and such, seek the help of a professional. I am not, repeat, not one of those.
Areas of Responsibility
A lot like a time and money agreement, areas of responsibility serve to make sure everyone knows what they should be doing and when. By clearly defining their roles and objectives in those roles you help keep everything on track. If you are by yourself, that is fine, do this anyways! Know how much you do and have a plan for when someone may step up and ask what they can do to help!
Running Ideas through the Documents
Once you are done with these documents it is very straightforward to spitball ideas, concepts, and even changes down the road.
In the beginning this is something I had up when I was putting out posts about the show to help make sure the tone and message aligned with the goals of the show.
Begin by putting your ideas against the mission statement and then if it fits, it moves along. Does it really match your vision? In my example above with the painting, I might consider adding a sailboat. I like to draw them, and it would look nice on the horizon, but it doesn’t fit the vision I laid out.
Core values are the strongest filter and tend to get edited a lot to adapt to changing environments and personal messaging. That is fine! But be sure to revisit past things you have done under your umbrella and see if they still make the cut. If they don’t, I would remove, delete, and put a notice somewhere public as to why. Changing your mind and honing your voice over time is only natural the more you do something.
Last, can you actually make it work? Maybe your fake commercial is going to cost a bunch of money in props so you can’t do it. Well table it and set it aside. But maybe it can be done so you move forward and it goes through the last documents making its way to financial responsibility and then onto who is actually going to make this idea a reality in Areas of responsibility.
What do I do with them?
Documents like these can be found in a few places for me and have helped me a lot in the past. I have benefited from having them handy numerous times. They live on my website, my Patreon pages, and other places on the web. They stand to hold me accountable, and so people know what they are engaging with.
I have used them when inviting a guest on the show who never heard of us in the past. It was for certain sent to the first guests who recorded, not knowing what the show was going to be in the first place.
I used them when I went looking for a new co-host for the show. It showed not only my level of commitment and thought, but I quietly set my expectations of them. (Dan has been amazing on that front, I might add)
I have revised them, and adapted them. When we break in the summer and for the long break in the winter, Dan and I reviewed them to make sure that they still made sense, and we will do it again on the next break.
When we made a large shift in programming and split our program up, we ran it through here and came out the better for it! It helped us remain fun and relevant in the game weeks when we were worried we would fade or not be as engaged.
I hope you found these insights helpful. If it seems like a lot, well, it is! It took many days to flesh this out, and I can say that my documents have really held up over the time I have done the show. In many ways you are starting a small business. The podcasts/shows that have been around for a long time have turned into one, with merchandise, LLC’s, insurance, and other considerations. If you have these items ready from the start it will help you remain consistent, adapt and evolve, rather than just switch things up chase a view or trend.
Coming up in
The tech of setting it up
Adapting to change