“How to Become the Center of Influence Through Impactful Podcasting” with Nan McKay of the Trailblazers Impact Podcast

Tracy Leigh Hazzard
Dec 19, 2019 · 12 min read
Nan McKay, host of the Trailblazers Impact podcast

Podcasting is like any new endeavor. It takes a lot of work and time to get where you want to be — and for me, that goal is always moving forward. I always have a new horizon.


part of my series of interviews about “How podcasters can become a center of influence”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nan McKay of the Trailblazers Impact Podcast. She is a serial entrepreneur and 2019 California woman-business-owner of the year, who created two podcasts, TrailBlazers Impact and Peace Through Business, to link generations by sharing personal stories of women surviving historical or personal events and overcoming challenges. Living her passion for over 50 years, she constantly works toward empowering women to survive adversarial obstacles. Along with her co-host, DeeDee Strum, their podcasts spotlight ordinary women with extraordinary achievements, providing inspirational how-to-do-it guides on their website.


hank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about why or how you got started as a podcaster?

My son took over as CEO of the business I started in 1980, Nan McKay and Associates, and I knew there couldn’t be two people in charge, so I decided to do something else. At first, I was excited that I didn’t have to get up at 6 AM anymore and I could just leisurely do nothing over coffee. That lasted for about 2 weeks. I had been teaching an executive management five-day credentialing course I wrote, volunteered with non-profits, and traveled around the world. When I found I was going to places I had already visited, just to go, I started looking for something else to do — more of a real business. In one of my classes, someone suggested I do podcasting. My reply was, “What’s podcasting?”

Everyone expected me to podcast on housing topics, but my son sighed and said, “Mom, you’ll just tie up our best staff that I need to count on to make money.” So I had to pick a different topic. When you have worked in an industry since 1963, you feel like that’s all you know, other than starting and managing businesses. But I wanted something different, and my daughter said, “Why don’t you interview women and share their stories?”

I called a friend I’d had for many years and proposed the idea to her and asked her if she would like to join me. Even though we are apart for long periods, we always pick up right where we left off and she was thinking of writing a book of women’s stories. So we were off and running.

We started with women my age, especially women of color who had lived through the civil rights era, the Vietnam War, three assassinations, bra burnings, glass ceilings, and discrimination of all kinds.

Many of us thought with President Obama’s election that racial, gender and culture barriers were starting to crumble. Instead, there seems to be a backlash. I wanted to show, through stories, how women, particularly women of color, have succeeded in life to break through all barriers to achieve their goals. But I also realized that many older women don’t do podcasting (duh! Neither did I at the time!)

When we were selected as one of the top podcasts for women in their 20’s, I thought, “Wow! Maybe there are messages that everyone wants to hear.” Since I teach several different generations in my class and I’m fascinated with how younger generations think, I started wondering about younger TrailBlazers and expanded my podcast. My co-host DeeDee has remained true to our original principle of older women of color with amazing stories of overcoming obstacles.

Can you share a story about the most interesting thing that has happened to you since you started podcasting?

I had the opportunity, through the Institute for the Economic Empowerment of Women, to podcast 20 businesswomen from Afghanistan and Rwanda. The stories of their struggles through surviving the Taliban occupation and the Rwandan genocide make our endeavors less daunting.

When one of the women I interviewed was growing up, girls were not allowed to attend school. Her father had died, and the two women lived alone which was very precarious back then because they were unprotected. Her mother wanted her to have an education and found an underground woman who would teach her. She went to the house every day, hidden under her mother’s burqa, to get some education. Finally, the ban on girls was lifted and she was able to go to school. Her mother waited outside the gate for her every day. One day she was very warm and lifted the burqa up. People saw her and “beat her with wooden things.” Today, the little girl is a businesswoman. However, security is still their biggest issue. They describe having to have a male relative walk with them if they are going outside a certain area. Their biggest fear is that the Taliban will reassert their position.

Others from Rwanda tell about coming back to their country after the genocide in 1994 and finding the government had taken over their house and killed many of their relatives. The saddest thing for many of them is that they can’t find their parents’ graves.

After listening to the stories, I feel very lucky to live in this country and not be fearful all the time.

Can you share a story about the biggest or funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I, like many other podcasters I would bet, thought the interviewing would be the hard part. I had presented classes and seminars for almost 40 years. Could I actually shut up and let someone else talk? And what if we ran out of things to say? And what if I ran out of people to interview? All questions that started with, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” But I found the interviewing is the easiest part.

I didn’t know how long they should be at first. I just listened to my guests and thought, “That’s really interesting. People would want to hear that, regardless of how long it is.” Then one of my Gen X friends said, “Younger people don’t want to listen for an hour — they just don’t have that much time.” Oh, no! I had several that were longer than an hour! So I either broke them into two parts if they were really interesting, re-podcasted them, or edited them down into smaller timeframes.

I’m never afraid of change, much to the distress of people around me. And I’ve never been much afraid of jumping in with both feet, so I did. Sometimes to my benefit and sometimes to my detriment which is why I have started 7 businesses, with some being wildly successful and at least one being less successful to dismal failure. My biggest mistake, overall these businesses, is that I didn’t do enough research on the front end. I just tend to jump, sometimes over the cliff. For the podcasts, I took 6 months to research everything I could find about podcasting before I actually put a podcast out. And I have learned far more than I ever thought I would. And one of the biggest things I learned is that I’m simply not good at some things and it’s better to have someone else do it, even if you have to pay for it out of your own pocket.

How long have you been podcasting and how many shows have you aired?

I have been podcasting since June 2019 and I now air 4 episodes a week for a total of 79 through November and I will break 100 by 2020.

What are the main takeaways or lessons you want your listeners to walk away with?

I want the listeners to be deeply inspired and to find hope and insight in the stories they hear from the women (and a few men!) in our podcast who are from all walks of life, all ages, and cultures, who have experienced something they may also be going through. I also want listeners to walk away moved to action by the extraordinary achievements of these women who have faced sometimes extreme obstacles but who have an impenetrable will to overcome adversity and succeed. I want them to think, “If they can do it, then so can I!”

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the core of our discussion. You are a very successful podcaster. Can you share with our readers the five things you need to know to create an extremely successful podcast?

Podcaster Influencer, Nan McKay of the Trailblazers Impact Podcast shares the best ways to:

a) Booking great guests. First of all, I have no shame. I will scope out anyone and everyone I see and I’m always thinking, “I wonder if they would be a good podcast guest.” I approach people everywhere — in the airport, on planes where they can’t get away from me, etc. etc. Almost everyone has an interesting story. The question is whether you can get them to tell it so someone will want to listen. I’ve found women conferences are a great source of interesting people.

b) Increase listeners. I encourage my guests to share because without anyone to listen, these great podcasts just go into the air. The credit on mining for listeners goes to the great collaborators I have who constantly find new ways to contact and entice people through social media which is definitely the hardest thing for me. Another of my collaborators is helping me through analytics.

c) Produce it in a professional way. It’s a combination of things, some of them cost quite a bit and some are free. Most importantly, you need to have people to help you. I can edit but marginally, so I hire that out for many of the episodes. Collaborators help me write the descriptions, the newsletter, the social media items and edit my website. If you want to produce at least 4 podcasts a week or more, you just can’t do everything yourself and expect total quality unless you are really good at all these things.

d) Encouraging Engagement. Most people listen when they are driving to work which means you have to engage them or they will “change the channel” and you have to stay within about 30 minutes for each episode. Think up new ways to engage them so they will remember to listen to the next episode. We do that by producing a one-minute snippet quote from the podcast guest with his/her picture and use it for social media and email. We also do a newsletter every 2 weeks to let people know what episodes are coming up so they can plan on them. We put engaging quotes on all social media platforms.

e) Best way to monetize it. I am still exploring the best way to monetize it. There are two primary ways I would consider: charging a very nominal fee to the followers (which I’m not inclined to do) and attracting sponsors. Normally, to get sponsors you have to have a big enough following measured in the number of downloads of an episode to interest sponsors in your podcast. You can establish various levels of sponsorship so that each level gets a new benefit, much like the airlines do. To date, I have funded this myself but I feel it is a worthwhile cause and I must prove myself first.

From your vantage point, what are some of the reasons why a person should consider creating a podcast series?

In my opinion, the biggest reason people want to produce a podcast is that they have a message they want to get out. They usually have expertise in an area and want to share it with people. And everyone dreams of “hitting it big” as the YouTubers have done. I think the real answer is that you have a passion to podcast, you have extra time you can fit it in, and you have some start-up money. To me, it’s much like starting a business. One of my guests has a website which could help you get started. And there are YouTube videos out there on podcasting — watch for one from me soon!

Nowadays it seems as if everyone is trying to jump on the podcast bandwagon. Are there people to whom you would advise to avoid podcasting and instead focus on another medium?

The biggest factor in the decision is time. If the objective is to have a successful podcast produced at least weekly, it is at least a three-quarters time job. It takes passion to want to get up to go into your podcast office and work at the computer all day, practically every day. I have my podcasts lined up in advance for at least two months which means scheduling and conducting the interview, obtaining the release forms, the bios and the pictures, the editing, and the promotions are lined up and ready to go on a schedule inputted into Libsyn. If you have a website for the podcast, everything but the final embed code for the LISTEN button is finished on the website. Then all you have to do the night before the publication is to add the embed code.

Even if you are only producing one podcast a week, it will be difficult to do everything yourself. First, you may not be good at everything and second, there is simply a lot to do and organize to get a podcast published on time and promoted. It helps to have supervised staff in the past and to have experience in teambuilding. The difference is that your team is located all over the world, so coordinating their efforts on a platform like Slack is key. Everyone needs to know what everyone else is doing. And recognize, that even if you have only a few people, it will cost you money. I use GenM.co to find staff I want to hire after their three-month apprenticeship is done, but I can’t pay the money they could get elsewhere so if they eventually want full-time work, I lose them after the three months. They are a great resource when you are starting up, though. I use Upwork.com for editing. Social media is the most expensive staff/consultant endeavor whether you use a third party such as Upwork or use an experienced consultant to work with your staff. If you want your podcast noticed, you will need this component.

Any medium where there isn’t a schedule to maintain would be easier, but it is harder to keep listeners if they can’t count on you for regularity. Maintaining a successful podcast has to be more than a hobby.

How has your position as a podcast host and a person of high authority, impacted your business, sales, and/or increased your opportunities? Can you share a story with us?

Being selected as 2019 California Business Owner of the Year by CA National Association of Women Business Owners has opened doors and given me credibility. The fact that I started a business in 1980 out of the basement of my house which is now a multi-million dollar business with almost 1000 employees gives me credibility when I approach guests to podcast.

And I have a new idea I am pursuing. I have worked in the affordable housing industry for 56 years and, although podcasting takes most of my time, I still teach five-day executive management credentialing classes 12–15 times a year around the country. I am considering a podcast whose mission will be to capture the stories of the people who have blazed trails in the affordable housing industry. I have podcasted the person who helped write the civil rights law and there are many like him who are still alive with a fascinating story to tell. I hope people will listen to the living history and that I can capture it before we all die off!

Podcasting is like any new endeavor. It takes a lot of work and time to get where you want to be — and for me, that goal is always moving forward. I always have a new horizon.

What makes your podcast binge-listenable? What do you think makes your podcast unique from the others in your category? What do you think is special about you as a host, your guests, or the content itself?

Every person has a story and every story is different. That’s what makes it absolutely fascinating. As a host, I am truly interested in their story and I feel intimately connected to the person and think about them long after they are a guest on the show. My guests become part of my family. I also think of my followers that way and am exploring ways to reach out to them and gather them in as my family.

Where can our readers find you on Social Media?

Facebook: @TrailBlazersImpact

Twitter: @TrailblzrsImpct

Is there a specific high-value guest (obviously still living) that you would love to interview on your show, and why? He or she might just see this when we tag them!

In my dream world, I would have Oprah and Michelle Obama for the TrailBlazers Impact podcast. They embody the class and culture and dedication to create change that makes our show what it is.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Tracy Leigh Hazzard

Written by

Co-host of 4 top-ranked podcasts: New Trust Economy, Feed Your Brand, Product launch Hazzards, WTFFF?!; Brand Strategist and prolific content Brandcaster.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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