So, you have a great podcast idea and want to get it out into the world — and maybe even start cashing in on those sponsorships. Grabbing the mic and starting a podcast seems easy enough, right? Yes and no.
In fact, Tim Ruggeri, content manager for Acast and co-creator and co-host of The Complete Guide to Everything said the biggest misconception about starting a podcast is that anyone can do it. “While the tools have been democratized, and it’s easier than ever to start a podcast, creating and producing a podcast that resonates with an audience of any size takes time, commitment and a creative drive that not everybody has,” he said.
That’s not to say it’s impossible; if you have an idea you’re excited about, you can certainly get it off the ground. But before you get started, take the time to do a bit of homework and know what actually starting a podcast entails.
Solidify your idea and your goals
A vague idea for a podcast probably won’t take you very far, especially when you’re entering a field with thousands upon thousands of other podcasts already in action. “The most important factor any new podcaster needs to have figured out before starting is a clear idea of what makes their potential show distinct from anything else that’s already out there,” said Jeremy Enns, storyteller-in-chief and founder of Counterweight Creative. “Too many podcasters skip this all-important step in favor of figuring it out on the fly. What happens is that 10 episodes in, they’ve put out a hodgepodge of episodes, failed to gain any traction and end up quitting, thinking that podcasting just isn’t for them. I encourage everyone to come up with a 10-word phrase that completely describes [your] show while also distinguishing it from anything else in existence.” If you can’t do that, you’re not quite there.
Before you settle on something, make sure you really like it. “It has to be something you will remain passionate about week after week, year after year,” said Ben Mandelker, a co-host of the podcast Watch What Crappens. “Also think about scalability. Do you see this as a podcast that will remain about one subject? Or will it grow to expand many topics? Be careful not to pigeonhole yourself.”
And then solidify your goals. “Really think about why you want a podcast and what you want out of it,” said Kelly Glover, a podcast booking agent with The Talent Squad. “Figure out who you want to reach, what action you want them to take after listening and how you measure success. Is your podcast a vehicle for personal branding? A way to reach potential customers? Content for your existing audience? A way for you to connect with professionals in your niche so you can build relationships?” Whatever it is, having that goal in mind will help you stay on track as you go through the process.
But allow for evolution
All that said, while it’s important to have a strong sense of direction when you get started, it’s equally important to give yourself space to grow. “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who [have] lost their momentum as they try to line up all their podcast ducks perfectly,” Mandelker said. “Don’t bog yourself down overthinking your voice or your slogan or your musical stingers [brief audio clips often used to transition between segments], because the dirty truth is that your first several shows will be far different than the ones you’ll be doing a year from now. For all the effort you put in to making the first episode absolutely perfect, just know you’ll probably look back and cringe at it. So, don’t waste time trying to explode out of the gate with perfection — just start recording!”
Get the right equipment
You don’t need to make a huge financial investment from the start, but it may be worth it to buy a few key things in the way of gear and software. “It’s easy to produce a podcast that sounds pretty good for cheap,” Ruggeri said. “It’s very easy to produce a crappy sounding podcast. Invest in a decent mic and interface for your computer.”
Ruggeri suggested searching for “basic podcasting equipment” online to find quality options, while Enns suggested the popular microphone, the Audio-Technica ATR-2100. “It...plugs into your computer’s USB port and is the first choice of many beginner podcasters, many of whom stick with it through hundreds of episodes and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of downloads,” he said.
As for software, Enns suggested using Squadcast to record interviews (or your co-host) remotely; an interface like Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or a mixer like the Behringer Xenyx 1204 to record other people in person; and an audio-editing software like the free Garageband and Audacity or the “more fully featured favorite of podcasters,” Hindenburg Journalist.
Prepare all of the other aspects, too
Creating a podcast isn’t just about recording and editing audio. “If you’re looking to be taken seriously and give yourself the best chance at success, you’re going to want to invest in some decent gear, a website for your podcast, catchy cover art and a reputable podcast host.” The host is the platform where your podcast will actually live and be distributed from. Anchor is a popular free hosting service; but if you want to step it up a notch, Enns recommended hosts like Libsyn, Simplecast and Podbean.
“The commitment of time is far more than the financial,” Glover said. So, if you have it in your budget, “a lot of people outsource the cover artwork for iTunes, audio editing, show notes writing and podcast guest booking.”
You should also take the time to nail down a schedule, and think about what you (and your collaborators, if you have any) can realistically commit to. “Once you release your episodes, you’ll be making an unspoken pact with the audience that they can expect content on a certain schedule,” Mandelker said. “If that means once a week, bi-weekly, once a month or as a batch of several episodes couched as a ‘season,’ you are establishing a pattern; and if you can’t be consistent, your audience will never establish a pattern that involves your show in their lives.”
It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of your idea and your debut episode, but you can hit a wall pretty quickly if you don’t think beyond that. “Have a plan for more than your first episode,” Ruggeri said. “Outline and record your first five episodes before you release any. Once you get to your fifth show, you might throw the first couple out.”
Enns, meanwhile, recommends writing down at least 25 episode topics and make a list of two-to-three potential guests for each topic before you start recording. (You can start by reaching out to your top choice guest and then move down the list.) “This will ensure you’ve got clarity around your show’s content for the first few months of your show as you figure everything else out,” he said. “If you’re struggling to find episode topics, talk to people who are your target listeners and get to know them. Ask them about what they’d want to hear about on a show related to your topic and take notes. This is another scary step...that all too many podcasters skip, thinking they know best.”
Make your podcast available and connect with your audience
Being part of a podcast network (kind of like a TV network) can have its benefits — particularly when it comes to their resources and ability to promote your show and get advertisers on board — but it’s definitely not necessary. In fact, there are benefits to going without one. In that case, “you’re free to develop any way you want, fail and try new things with nobody to answer to but yourself,” Ruggeri said. “You can always take your show to a network after you’ve established it on your own — and that will give you more leverage.”
Even if you don’t have a network, “any decent podcast hosting company, [like] Libsyn, Simplecast [and] Podbean will make it easy for you to submit your podcast to iTunes and many other podcast platforms,” Enns said. After you’ve signed up with a hosting platform, he added, you’ll get a link that you can submit to Apple and “following an approval process, your podcast will be up on iTunes and dozens of other podcast platforms.”
But getting your podcast on iTunes can only do so much if you don’t attract and connect with an audience to listen to it; and a “multi-pronged approach” is your best bet for doing so, according to Mandelker. “Be sure to build your social media with your show, especially Instagram and Twitter,” he said. “A private Facebook group helps develop a community around your content, too. Having guests on your show and also guesting on other people’s podcasts is a great way to expose yourself and your content to new audiences. It’s probably the single best way to boost your podcast outside of having a major media moment.”
Give yourself time to grow
Even if you’re doing all the right things in terms of reaching an audience, you’re probably not going to see overnight success. “Podcasting is generally a slow growth medium, and it often takes six-to-12 months at a minimum to start seeing meaningful results in the way of audience growth,” Enns said. He suggested listening to other podcasts, joining online and in-person communities, reading about podcast marketing and perhaps even signing up for courses and workshops to help learn how to market yourself and your show.
As for money, while you can start reaching out to brands about sponsorships at any time (and potentially get ad revenue through your hosting company, according to Income School), don’t expect to rake it in from the start. “Don’t quit your job,” Mandelker said. “Some people are out-of-the-box hits. But most of us have to work our way up. In the meantime, definitely sign up for Patreon, a crowdfunding subscription site that...allowed us to podcast full time years before the real advertising came through.”
When all is said and done, “Creating a podcast is more work than you think,” Ruggeri said. “It’s a bummer to devote time and energy to create something you’re proud of, send it out into the world and then not see immediate success. You’ll want to quit. Most people do quit.”
But, Ruggeri said, it takes time to develop your voice; so rather than give in to the urge to quit when you’re frustrated, commit to sticking it out for a certain length of time or number of episodes. He added, “Immediate podcast success is rare, so give yourself a chance to evolve.”