A dreaded disease can lead you to re-evaluate your life and hope for better days ahead. Cancer survivor Aly French has reinvented herself by living a healthier and more productive life along with her friend and Courageous Wellness co-host Erica Stein. Their story of friendship and persistence towards losing weight and de-stigmatizing what’s going on in conversations in the wellness space is phenomenal. By creating their platform, Aly and Erica have made an impact to many healthy living seekers as they mark their 50th episode. Here you will know why they started their podcast, how they go about improving it one episode at a time, and how they monetize it. Learn the importance of being vulnerable and having courageous conversations as they advocate free wellness for everyone.
Listen to the podcast here:
Center Of Influence: Courageous Wellness with Erica Stein and Aly French
I have a couple of new podcasters to bring you, Courageous Wellness Podcast. I have Erica Stein and Aly French and they have been doing this since 2018. They’ve had a whole year of podcasting under their belt. They decided to start this podcast to raise awareness and de-stigmatize what’s going on in conversations in the wellness space. After Aly experienced a cancer diagnosis in her twenties, she and Erica who sustained a 50-pound weight loss and self-love journey herself, decided to create this platform to interview real people about their personal journeys in health and wellness. They cover physical wellness, emotional wellness and spiritual wellness. They hear courageous stories and focus on why it’s so important to share these stories. I love that they’re celebrating experiences and life’s lessons of their guests as well as strong lessons from their own courageousness as well. I’m so excited to bring you both of them. Aly, as a cancer diagnosis in your twenties, that horrifies me. I have a daughter in her twenties. That would be shocking to me as a parent and life-altering. I can’t imagine what it was like for you.
It was a surprise for sure. I was 29 at the time. It’s a little bit on the later side of the twenties, but regardless, I’m young and feeling healthy. I’m a performer by trade so I do a lot of singing and physical live shows and theater. I kept myself in pretty good health. I was used to taking care of my body. I had a bruise that wasn’t going away on my back. Eventually, after multiple doctors not knowing what it was and a long time to get a diagnosis, I found out I had a rare tumor that starts in the skin but grows down and it is called DFSP, Dermatofibrosarcoma. It is a type of sarcoma. I was fortunate because I just had to do a few surgeries, but it changed my perspective on my health, my life, my invincibility. It’s a big shift in my mindset having gone through that experience.
Sustaining weight loss, Erica, on the other hand, was it a battle for you constantly?
I always carried extra weight and food has always been emotional for me as I know it is for many people. For better or for worse, it was a good day or a bad day. The reward in my family was always food and nurturing with food. I always carried extra weight, but I hit my highest weight in my early twenties. I would always try to lose it, “If I would lose this weight, then I would be X, Y, Z. I’d be happy, I’d have relationships, whatever.” I never was able to lose the weight because it was always about the physical weight and always dealing with the way what was happening in my emotional life was manifesting. What was going on me in the inside was manifesting on the outside.
My weight loss and I think why I was able to sustain it now for several years is because it began from a self-love journey, even more than a weight loss journey. When I started dealing with this part of myself and going through like, “I’m going to love and treasure myself exactly as I am, exactly at this weight, exactly how I look,” that’s when the weight started falling off. I started exercising, but I was only exercising two days a week. I started eating differently. That’s what’s so hard when I originally started talking about my weight loss journey to people because I lost 50 pounds in about a year. They would be like, “What are you doing? What happened?” It started from I chant and I practice Buddhism, that’s how Aly and I met. It started from this daily chant and this daily practice of, “I love myself, I treasure myself, I value myself as I am in this body,” and the weight fell off.
Those are shocking, jilting and long-term changes. I love that you bring such different perspectives to it. After having listened to some of your episodes, I see that you see those interesting perspectives and interplay. You obviously are good friends even you can just feel it whether you started as friends before or it’s become closer over time. Let’s talk a little bit about that. That’s what’s key about your show. What’s making your show unique is the fact that you two are bringing such different perspectives.
That’s something that we fortunately have. Part of the impetus for creating the show is that we had vastly different experiences that related to our own personal wellness. Mine is from a more medical perspective and Erica is from an emotional perspective. There are physical elements to hers and there are deeply emotional elements to mine. We realized we have these stories that we knew each other, but we didn’t know the depths of the stories prior to creating this platform. It was when we started talking about and sharing our own stories with each other in that way that we realized so many people have stories to tell. People can gain a lot from hearing other people’s experiences because it doesn’t feel like you’re alone in what you’re experiencing, that it’s a part of the human condition.The best way to get new listeners is by constantly engaging in new communities. Click To Tweet
Is that why you decided to start the podcast?
Yeah. Aly and I, it’s been a few years that we’ve been friends, but we weren’t the closest of friends. We weren’t best friends but we knew each other. We were social friends. I did know Aly when she was experiencing her cancer diagnosis, but she met me after I lost the majority of my weight. She had no idea that I had this weight loss journey that was so emotional and I didn’t know the intricacies of her cancer diagnosis, recovery, the emotional component that took on her. Aly returned from Japan. She was doing a show, she’s a performer in Japan. She came home and we started spending all this time together. We were sharing more deeply about ourselves and we’ve learned the importance of being vulnerable, the importance of having courageous conversations and courageous dialogue. We were doing that in our friendship. We’re like, “Other people have these stories too. Let’s create a platform for people to feel less alone and share them.”
When you started it, was it easy? Was it hard? What horrible or funny things happened when you first started?
We have learned so much as we’ve gone. It still continues to, but sometimes we had enough blind ignorance going into it, that it wasn’t a barrier to entry. We did our research and we knew a little bit about podcasting, but also our lack of knowledge in this space and there’s such a saturation of podcasts these days. It helped us not to limit ourselves. We’re like, “Let’s do this. We don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re going to figure it out as we go.” That was a big lesson. We can’t listen to the earliest episodes because they’re so rough, but we didn’t wait until we felt it was perfect to start it. We just started and we allowed ourselves to refine. We continue to allow ourselves to refine, learn, have sound issues and all the things that come up when you’re podcasting. We allow that to be a part of our journey and not feel like there’s this perfect product prior to doing it.
That’s so important that you have found that and you’ve taken on the challenge. I want to mention this because I’m watching you do this. This is something that Tom and I recorded an episode about cohosting because Tom and I are cohosts. We’ve been cohosting together for a few years. We’ve done almost a thousand episodes together and it’s hard. It is not the easiest thing in the world to cohost because you step over each other and you trip on each other’s voices. You want to support each other but that’s overtalk. You learn to nod a lot, you learn to smile a lot at the other, you learn to give thumbs up and weird things like that. What they’re doing is they’re sitting side by side and they’re passing the microphone back to each other and they said that’s exactly how they wanted to do it at the beginning, which prevents them talking over each other more.
That’s great because you know who you are and you know that you’ll do it. Tom and I do it. We talk over each other all the time. It’s our shtick and it’s usually me talking over him so that’s a thing. We got to the point where we podcast across the table from each other and we point to each other. You have to find a way to make that happen because the dynamisms of the two of you together is great. As I pointed out, there’s this difference in perspective and viewpoint, but there’s also more fun and playfulness that goes on with having the two of you together. To lose that because technically it feels complicated or cumbersome. You don’t want to do that because it’s part of what’s making your show bingeable and great.
From your perspective, what do you think has been the unique thing that’s gotten you through 50 episodes and started to draw an audience for you?
We believe in the mission of telling these courageous stories. We’re not afraid to have courageous conversation and dialogue about things that a lot of people in wellness might not necessarily want to talk about like privilege. The wellness space is very wide. That’s just the way it is. We bring up these topics with our diverse group of guests. We don’t feel like we’re going to solve all these issues on one podcast episode. We do believe it’s important to talk about it, to share it, to be voices and encourage our audience to be the force and to do good in this world.
Did you set out to do that at the beginning or did it develop over time?
It’s a little bit of both. We set out to tell the stories in the most basic way. As we started to interview people and as we became more entrenched in this Los Angeles wellness community, certain things became very apparent to us pretty quickly. We decided that we wanted to use the platform to maybe make small changes or if not make changes, at least bring awareness to some of the issues that are not talked about. Wellness is such a big word. We don’t believe that anybody’s personal wellness, self-care, whatever you want to call it, from medical things to maybe five minutes of alone time for your mental health in the morning, whatever that may be for you. We believe that it should be accessible to everybody. Everybody should have a right to have some practice for themselves and that shouldn’t cost a certain amount of money. You shouldn’t have to look a certain way, to go to a certain class or whatever that may be. That became a more apparent theme the more entrenched we became in the community.
It’s like the antidote to what was going on out there.
As our awareness grew, we tried to incorporate it more into the conversations that we’ve had.
We have a new podcaster starting up that I want to introduce you to. We’ve had somewhat similar conversations around the fact that there are many podcasters, videocasters and social media that make it way more complicated than it needs to be as well and you keep it simple.If you wait until something is perfect, you're going to be waiting forever. Click To Tweet
Even from a technical perspective, we try to keep it simple too. That’s something we’ve learned. We want to be mobile. We’ve refined our long-distance stuff, which is never the same as being in the room with someone. When we are in the room with someone as well, we want to keep it simple. We want to be able to go to them if that’s possible. We’ve tried to keep our set up simple yet refined.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to start out podcasting?
Aly and I, we’ve talked a lot about this and she might want to elaborate on it as well, but just do it. I know that sounds very Nike. We touched on this already, but it honestly worked to our advantage. We had passion, we had a mission and we did our due diligence in terms of what we needed to figure out technically. All of that not so fun behind the scenes stuff, we did that. In terms of getting it out there, we did it. We’re like, “We’re going to tell these stories because we believe in them so much and see where that goes.” Sometimes nothing is ever going to be perfect. If you wait until something is perfect, you’re going to be waiting forever or you’re always going to be so upset with whatever product you eventually put out there. You have nothing to lose by doing it.
As far as if you’re starting out with a podcast, because it is pretty trendy and it’s easy to start one. All you need is a microphone and a computer. I think people don’t realize how much consistent work it is. That’s something I’d like to bring awareness too because people think we’re friends and even our friends are like, “What do you guys do when you’re together?” They don’t understand the time commitment that goes into it. We do very minor edits, but we have to edit. You have to do research, you have to reach out and you have to do communications. With us, because we’re a guest-based podcast, we do a lot of correspondence with publicists and individuals. It’s a big-time commitment.
I’m so glad you mentioned that.
In the world of social media influencers these days, it can seem glossy for people to have a brand or whatever. We started out as podcast hosts, we didn’t start out as social media influencers and we’re not. It’s not all shiny that what you see on the outside, it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of preparation. I don’t expect that it’s going to just flow. You have to keep the flow.
You mentioned before the number of podcasters. There are a lot of podcasts out there. There are over 700,000 podcasts out there, but there are only 140,000 active ones. That’s exactly because they got into it and they didn’t realize what they were getting themselves into.
Something Aly and I always go back to is what is your why? In everything in life, it’s what is your why? Why are you starting a podcast? Why do you want to put this message out into the world? Why do you do anything that you do? Because when it gets hard or when you’re growing your listenership and every day, especially in the beginning, is a grind. It’s like what is that why? I remember when Aly and I first started getting messages and DMs from listeners, we would always be like, “Do you know this person? Do you know them?” We’d be like, “No.” It is hard. That’s part of it. You see the numbers and the map. We have listeners all over the world, which is so incredible, but you don’t interact like they’re just on a webpage until they’re not, until they start corresponding with you. I believe it’s that why, that mission and purpose that keeps you going.
Let’s talk about some of those best lessons you’ve learned so far on. We’re going to go over the five things, “The best ways to.” What are the best ways to book great guests?
One is to plan as far ahead of time as you can. We’ve learned this the hard way too, but we always like to be at certain amount of time out so that we know that there’s always going to be a great episode to release every week. Ask, I think that was mind-blowing to us. We’ve got some incredible guests who are even at the tops of their field now. We have people with regular stories, but we also have experts come on now and they have their stories. Why did they become an expert in X field, in medicine or whatever? What blew my mind in the beginning is we started asking people we didn’t know. People often say yes, but if you don’t ask, the answer is no.
Back to that planning concept, some of the lessons that you’re talking about because we do solo episodes every few months, but we are guests and we interview people. Early on, if someone would cancel, we would be like, “What are we going to do?” It would be such a scary experience. That was a learning process to always be bookings so that isn’t a problem. We do a lot of research. It helps that Aly and I both have entertainment backgrounds. We both have experience in this world, even if it wasn’t podcasting and just reaching out. Ask, plan and do great research.
What are some of the best ways to increase listeners?
Press and it comes in all forms. It might be doing other podcasts. We do a lot of swaps, which is fun for us because it’s a way we get great guests. They have an interest in sharing our story and we get to co-engage each other’s communities. The best way to get new listeners is constantly being engaging in new communities, especially if there’s a crossover with yours, and sharing platforms. We don’t look at it as a competitive thing like other wellness podcasts, we have something to offer and they have something to offer. We have something to offer each other’s audiences. We often get requests or ask people to do swaps with us and that works.
A lot of times, especially because we’re so guest specific, you would think if someone had a certain number of followers, that would translate to a certain amount of listens. That is not the case. Some of our unbelievably popular episodes like we did an episode on wellness, death and grief and healing through that process. She is not an influencer. She went to high school with Aly, they’re best friends and that episode did unbelievably. Again, it’s why are you doing what you’re doing? What is the mission behind what you’re doing? For us, telling these courageous stories and topics, no one wants to talk about death. It’s hard for me to deal with. It’s something that I’m not 100% comfortable in, but our audience responded to it. They shared it and they posted about it.It's easy to start but harder to continue. Click To Tweet
Those are stories that resonate and translate into more listeners. I like that. You are producing this all DIY, you’re doing it yourself. You said you don’t do a lot of heavy edits. How do you produce it in a professional way so you don’t have to do a lot of work?
We got lucky that my husband produces and edits the podcast. We don’t pay my husband and he works full-time. He has a lot of different clients and a lot of different jobs. He helps us but we’ve still gone through five phases of microphones.
You are using the one I recommend. We went through and we did a significant study of all the microphones and you’re still back to the ones that we recommend because it creates the least amount of edits.
He did help us, especially in the beginning with getting sound and he still edits for us. We can’t take full credit for that because we do have his guidance and his help. At the same time, we have to relisten and timestamp for him. We sent him all of the manual edits and then he technically does it. The time aspect we are still doing on our own, but he does physically go in there and cut for us.
On encouraging engagement, you’re saying it took a while for people to start talking to you. About how long did it take and then what did you do to encourage it to happen more?
It was honestly about eight to ten months. It started around six but a lot of engagement happened about ten months in.
It’s probably around 25 episodes in. It’s a magic number. No one realizes that there’s something about the magic of hitting about 25 where people then start talking to you. I don’t know why it is, but it happens for my shows that released 25 at the beginning. They get engagement right away and the ones that do 25 overtime is the same thing.
It took about to the halfway point, but how we encourage it is Aly and I, we love talking to people who email us, DM us and write to us. We will talk to you and answer your questions and be our best friend. We’re pretty friendly.
We appreciate it too. We love to have a little chat with someone who said, “I love this episode,” or is sharing this episode because it meant something. We’ve even had doctors. We did an episode on breast cancer and we’ve had our guest’s physicians and stuff. We’re asking is it okay for them to share it with their other patients so that they could benefit from the conversation and that has meant a lot to us. We take that seriously and it means a lot to us. As we get busier, we are a little bit slower sometimes with responses. As far as like we do get a lot of reaching out to be on the show, but even that, we try to respond to everybody because we appreciate anybody who’s interested.
What are the best ways to monetize? You guys have ads.
We started as a podcast. We didn’t start as an Instagram. The Instagram came next. A lot of people have a platform and then they start a podcast. We did it the opposite way. We were a podcast. The advertisements and sponsorships on the podcast episodes have been great. A lot of times, we’ll have sponsors who have become sponsors give us a trial code and see how it does. If they do well, then they want to sponsor us. A lot of times too, we’re micro micro-influencers.
There are nano and micro. I think your numbers technically tip you in the micro.
We have a very engaged community and we would never ever be at sponsorship or just a free code. It’s always something that we believe in, would take ourselves and recommend to our family and friends. The integrity behind sponsorship is very important.
Just a little pro-tip on what they’re doing there. I heard in one of your episodes where you were advertising for the mushroom coffee, Four Sigmatic. I don’t like the idea of mushrooms in my coffee but one of you said, “I don’t like mushrooms and I still like this coffee.” That resonated with me. I’d be like, “I’d give it a try then.” Having that personal touch is a great way to put that and produce that.
This is for other podcasters, as we started to work with some brands, that’s what they want because they understand. People also listen to the show. Oftentimes, we’re very guest specific, but we’ve learned even through our own stuff on the backend that people start to connect with the hosts too. We do not take that lightly. Even working with brands, they want you to put the copy into your own voice, into your own words. They want you to create content that is specific to us because I’m sure they have other podcasts or other platforms that they have that reach an entirely different group of people, but it’s specific to that platform. They want ours to be from our voices.Forward is forward even if it's a small forward. Click To Tweet
They want it to touch the people that are there for you. Have you gotten a higher level of authority? Have you become more influential? How has it impacted what you are doing? I think you’re going to be speaking somewhere. That’s how we met.
It’s completely changed our lives. Aly and I both went back to school where I’m about to be a certified holistic nutrition health coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. We do host and moderate panels and we speak. It has evolved into much more than just a podcast, but also this mission for our stories has bled into now. We feel like this is our life’s mission. It’s expanding our ideas for the next step for what type of work we could do because of this platform.
What are the future things on your list book, more speaking engagement especially?
We always say, “I’m just going to put it out there.” We have such amazing guests. We’ve released more than 50 at this point and there’s no end in sight. We thought that someday it would be fun to do a coffee table book featuring different stories and beautiful art and featuring our guests that’s resonated. Select stories that are such beautiful things, beautiful people and such a diverse group of voices. We would love to have a beautiful coffee table book.
We’re also open and would love to have it continuing to being like some media company as well to continue empowering other people. We’re also open to video and digital content as well in our interviews.
You mentioned before that one of the best ways to get a great guest is to ask. I always like to ask this towards the end. Who’s your big ask? Who’s the big get that you haven’t been able to reach, find their PR firm, whatever that is? Who would you like to have on the show that you haven’t gotten?
This is like a dream one day, but Michelle Obama, for me. That’s way out there.
She’s at the top of the list. Oprah, Michelle Obama and Brené Brown, those three are at the top of the list of the most common answers we’ve gotten here.
Oprah and Michelle Obama, definitely. What’s amazing is since one of the lessons we learned early on is to always plan. We’re pretty booked, even though we haven’t released it at this point. We can’t say who, but a lot of those big guests that we wanted when we started, they’re going to be coming on. That is again asking and never doubt yourself just because you’re a micro. I don’t know, Aly, who do you think? I like Michelle Obama or Oprah. I love Super Soul Sunday.You can gain a lot from hearing other people's experiences because it doesn't feel like you're alone. Click To Tweet
I have to say as Erica was saying that you’re like, “What are these big names that you don’t have the contact too?” It’s like those people who are on our list, we do now. For me, I have a ton of people in the medical world that I love and other podcasters. We also are in touch a little bit with some of these people too. I don’t know that they would be big names that people would know of other than me if you’re like a real nerd. It’s so exciting that the people that were on our list as roof far reaches, we’re now in contact with.
That’s something Aly and I are both good about. I don’t know if it’s because we have this shared Buddhist practice, that is how we met. We write intentions and goals. We constantly, especially in the beginning, we do check-ins of what are our goals for the next six months? What are the goals for the next year? What is our big vision? These are things that we’ve talked about since pretty much right after we started. It started moving. We were like, “What do we want to do? What do we want to see?” Some of these “dream guests” that we’ve now booked and are in contact with, they were on our list a year ago. It’s not like it just magically happened.
Do you have any last pieces of advice for someone who wants to get started?
It’s easy to start. It’s harder to continue. Keep in mind that when obstacles come up and they inevitably will, do not necessarily get discouraged by setbacks. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. To have that in the back of your head and even small growth is growth.
Something Aly and I always say too is, “Forward is forward,” even if it’s small forward. You mentioned too like we are great friends and we have this beautiful friendship, but I do think it helped that we were friends but we weren’t best friends. It wasn’t like we were tied at the hip. I almost think that worked to our advantage because we knew each other, we liked each other, but it also established a very important business partnership and working relationship. We have so much fun. We are closer than ever, but the foundation of this relationship grew because of the podcast and that is important. You don’t have to work with your best friend. If you are, just know the dynamics are going to change because you’re now married to each other.
You podcast with the person you’re actually married to, which is what I’ve done. Courageous Wellness, when do you put out your new episodes each week?
Every Wednesday, Wellness Wednesdays.
Wellness Wednesdays on Courageous Wellness Podcast. Aly French and Erica Stein, thank you so much for being on. I appreciate it and I’m excited to see you at the She Podcasts event. I want everyone to know that I am bringing you brand new podcasters every single week trying to get more cohosts coming on like Aly and Erica here. I think that’s a good dynamic to throw in as well. I’m giving you great tips on all the top things that they’re doing, all the ways that they’re growing and all the struggles that they’ve been through. We want to know those as well because we want you to keep going.
We want to grow a greater group of podcasters out there who are in it for the long haul, who are in it for their listeners, who are in it for what’s doing right by their businesses and by their own personal lives. I thank you all for tuning in to the Center of Influence on Feed Your Brand. If you have anyone who you’d like to bring forward to us or you would like to be featured on it, you can always go to FeedYourBrand.co and leave us a message. Thanks, everyone. This is Tracy Hazzard and I’ll be back next time with a new podcast influencer.
About Erica Stein and Aly French
After experiencing a cancer diagnosis in her twenties (Aly) and a sustained 50lb. weight loss and self-love journey (Erica), we created a platform to interview real people about their personal journeys in health and wellness. From physical wellness, to emotional and spiritual, they hear courageous stories and focus on why it is important to share them. They are committed to de-stigmatizing conversations in the wellness space and celebrate the experiences and lessons of our courageous guests.