In December 2015 when my business partner suggested we launch a podcast I wasn't convinced. I was certainly familiar with podcasts but had never loyally followed or listened to one.
My initial response was a common one for me, “that sounds like a lot of work.” I'm always skeptical of new initiatives that don't have a clear ROI and podcasting was in that category.
A few months later I attended a series of presentations at the Traffic and Conversion Summit about launching a podcast successfully and I came home from that event ready to move forward.
Soon after we launched The Concealed Carry Podcast which quickly grew to be a top 2-3 podcast in our industry and as of today our “podcast network” consist of 4 podcasts.
What follows is the answer to the common question I receive “how do I launch a successful podcast?”
Finding Your Place in An Ever-Expanding Podcast Library
In 2016 when we launched our first podcast about 25% of the US adult population had ever listened to a podcast. Now in 2020 that number has about doubled.
Podcasts are effectively on-demand radio shows and as broadcast radio loses ground every year podcasting takes up that lost volume and more.
As such the podcast realm which was already plenty heavy is growing ever more saturated with new content and shows. Standing out and winning in this growing competitive platform is very challenging.
While not as difficult as starting a successful YouTube channel today, the risk of becoming just one more podcast that doesn't bring anything unique to the audience is your top concern.
Start by researching the other shows in your category. Take notes about how their shows are formatted, to whom they appeal, and what unique value they bring to the listener.
Consider what you are going to do differently.
What unique value will you bring to the audience?
What unique perspective can you bring to the category that nobody else can?
Choosing A Host & Platform
A lot of the questions I get are relating to hosting and technology. At its core a podcast is a RSS feed that is formatted properly for podcast marketplaces to read.
Don't fret, I'm going to break it down. Lets start with some vocabulary.
Podcast marketplace: A website or app that catalogs a large number of podcasts and makes it easy for consumers to subscribe to and listen to those podcasts. iTunes is the original and as of this writing the most dominant podcast marketplace. Google Play Music is also a growing marketplace. Spotify, Tune-In, I Heart Radio, and now even Audible falls into this category.
Podcast host: A service (often costs money) where the actual audio files are stored (hosted). When a listener tunes into one of your podcast shows they will stream or download the episode from the host's server. There are hosts out there that tailor to the podcast market and are purpose-built. Blubrry, Libsyn, and Soundcloud come to mind. That said you can use any website hosting service to host your podcast but you may experience performance issues when you use a service not purpose-built for podcasts. The host is also going to be the place where you are going to get all your reporting and statistics.
Podcast website: The website you build to support and be the face of your podcast. That website may or may not be related to hosting in conjunction with the Podcast Host. For example, if you use Blubrry as your host, you can build a website using WordPress and then connect the two via Blubrry's “Powerpress plugin.” Libsyn also will work with WordPress or you can just host your website directly on their platform.
Podcast Feed: The RSS feed URL that is properly formatted to be read and indexed by podcast marketplaces. This URL will be generated and will live with your Podcast host.
I strongly encourage you to work with a podcast purpose-built host. I use Blubrry exclusively because they have the best WordPress integration in my opinion and WordPress is my platform of choice for building and maintaining a website. I also think their reporting interface is very good. Depending on the frequency of publishing your show you will pay $20 to $100 a month.
I manage the podcast and publish episodes via the website using the Blubrry Powerpress plugin but the actual audio files are hosted on Blubrry's server.
Titles, Headlines, and Categories
Like most business ventures, naming your podcast is going to be a mission critical step. Don't take it lightly.
Just as important is an understanding that the title of each show episode is a critical headline. Episode titles determine if the listener is going to engage and listen much like an email subject line determines if the recipient is going to open the email and read it.
Be deliberate and thoughtful when you write your episode titles.
When you launch your podcast and add it to catalogs like iTunes you will have to select a category and often a sub-category. There are 2 reasons why choosing the right category will matter for you.
First, potential listeners may browse a category in search of new podcasts they want to listen to. You want to be found in the place they are most likely to search when looking for your content.
Second, some categories have more podcasts and competition than others. If you have 2 different categories that both seem equally accurate and appropriate, but one has less competition you might choose that one in order to maximize your odds of ranking higher in your category.
The Launch Plan – The first 4 weeks are critical
Launching a podcast correctly will have a strong impact on your ongoing success. Many Podcast Marketplaces have a category for new and popular podcasts and getting a lot of downloads quickly may put you in a position where the marketplace will highlight your show and get you a lot more views and attention.
This effectively builds a cycle of growth. Getting downloads brings more listeners that get you more downloads that get you more listeners.
So in the first few weeks of your launch your goal is to drive as many listens and reviews/ratings as possible.
Strategy 1: Make the First 5-10 Episodes Your Best
Spend a lot of time thinking through your first 5-10 episodes. Ask people for their input and make sure the titles/headlines are amazing.
This will naturally increase loyalty early on and drive larger audiences.
Strategy 2: Publish A Lot of Episodes All At Once
Your ongoing publishing plan may be to publish a new episode once a week but in the first two weeks publish 3-10 of them. This helps you maximize the number of downloads you can get from your initial audience in the first few weeks.
Strategy 3: Make A Launch Team
Reach out to influencers, blogs, and friends and ask them to join your launch team. Effectively you are asking them to set aside some energy in the first 2 weeks of your launch to help you promote your new podcast.
Prepare assets for them to help them promote your show. Images for social media, press releases they can reference, and anything else you think would be helpful.
One way to encourage an influencer with a large audience is to invite them to record one of these early episodes with you. This gives them an incentive to promote your show and gives you greater credibility.
Promotional Plan – How Will You Drive Listeners
First read my post “How To Get A Large And Engaged Loyal Audience“
Here are some additional thoughts specific to Podcasts:
Strategy 1: Offer to be a guest on other podcasts in your industry
If you want to reach people who already consume podcasts there is no better place than on other podcasts.
It can be a tough sale to convince a competing podcast to have you on as a guest for obvious reasons (note the word “Competing). You will have to have a unique, attention-catching method of asking AND you will have to bring something valuable to the relationship. Something that causes them to NEED you as much as you need them.
Strategy 2: Invite Guests Who Have An Audience You Want to Reach
Your industry has influencers. People with large email lists, Instagram followings, blog readers, etc. When you invite these people on your show not only does that add to your credibility but it also gives them a good reason to share your show with their audience.
Strategy 3: Attend Industry Trade Shows
Your industry has events where you can shake hands with hundreds to thousands of consumers and or businesses. Go to those events and network. If finances allow get a booth and record episodes right there at the show.
Formatting and the Publishing Schedule
Formatting is the word we use in broadcast to refer to the process of determining how your show is going to be laid out. What content you are going to have.
While some successful podcasts have no format, they just consist of the host(s) talking for some length of time; MOST successful podcasts follow a specific format. Perhaps they always start with the sponsor message or an introduction. Perhaps they discuss current events followed by listener questions.
Whatever it may be, listeners like consistency. Think of your favorite news broadcast, late night TV show, or radio show. The consistency of segments and layout creates loyalty and tribe. You want both.
Also in thinking about consistency, the most successful podcasts create what is effectively an appointment with their listeners. How often you publish and what day you publish is far less important than picking a schedule and staying true to it.
There are few things that will turn OFF your audience faster than poor production value. In the case of an audio podcast, I'm talking about audio quality.
Invest in quality microphones and recording equipment. If recording remotely with guests and other hosts experiment with various tools to reduce audio variance and quality loss due to bandwidth.
Ask guests to participate from quiet locations with quality internet. Ask them to wear headphones to minimize audio feedback. Trust me, audio quality matters a lot!
Securing and Pitching Sponsors
Let me first say that if your only or primary motivation for starting a podcast is to secure paying sponsors just stop now. Unless you have a built-in library of salespeople and advertisers you already work with you don't have what is necessary to be successful out of the gate.
A podcast is a great way to support a passion or to support an existing business plan, model, or product. The amount of energy and time that will have to be invested to get a large enough audience to be able to make decent money from sponsorships is VERY high.
With that in mind here are some ideas that will help you with sponsors.
The industry standard way to price podcast advertising is on a CPM (Cost per thousand impressions). This is similar to most other forms of online advertising in which the advertiser is paying based on the ACTUAL reach of their message.
In the case of a podcast there are two ways this can be done. You can calculate the number of downloads after a certain amount of time has passed and bill the advertiser based on those actual numbers or you can bill the advertiser in advance based on a minimum guaranteed reach in a certain number of days based on your past history.
For example is I know my average episode is downloaded 11-12 thousand times within 30 days of being published then I might sell my podcast episode sponsorships based on 10K downloads minimum.
The CPM rate varies significantly by podcast but ranges between $20 and $100. That variance is going to be justified by the uniqueness or value of the average listener and the loyalty to the show if the average listener.
CPM is cost per thousand. You can find CPM calculators online to help you figure out the numbers.
It is common place for savvy and larger advertisers and agencies to request a media kit. A media kit is a file (PDF is most common) that highlights the various aspects of the show and it's audience. It often contains advertising rates and options as well.
Reach out to other podcasts in your industry and request their media kit to reference as examples.
Whatever you do be sure to over deliver for your advertiser. Do everything in your power to make sure their message is received by the audience. Be a user and consumer of their products so you can naturally refer to them in context outside of sponsor messages.
If you think a podcast may be a great way to reach and grow your audience you might be right. Investigate existing podcasts in your market and do something to be different.
Invest in quality gear and work to product a high quality podcast.
Figure out a business plan that isn't dependent on finding paid advertisers unless you already have the experience and access to salespeople and paying advertisers in your industry
Build a launch plan that will maximize your odds of success.
If you have other questions about launching or operating a podcast let me know!