ver the past (almost) 2 years I have had many highs and many lows building a decent-sized podcast from zero to where it is now. It has not been easy and I made a ton of mistakes along the way but in hindsight, all of those mistakes helped me improve and taught me valuable lessons. They also taught me what works and what doesn't work. I have worked remote for the last 2 years and doing the podcast has been a great networking tool & creative outlet. Brace yourself this is long.
Here are a few lessons:
Why even start a podcast? There are many reasons – perhaps you are really passionate about skydiving or wombats or F1 race cars or you're a cinephile and you want to host a weekly show explaining to listeners why these things that you are passionate about are so awesome. Perhaps you want to interview thought-leaders or experts in their respective fields, or perhaps you want to make people laugh and feel better. Perhaps you want to flex those expertise muscles you have in cryptocurrencies. There are many reasons people start podcasts but it’s almost always because they are passionate about something. There is something they want to share with the world. Whatever show you want to host and whatever your reason for hosting it is, just remember – passion and dedication win the race. Your show doesn’t have to be the best, it just has to be the best you can do at the moment.
How I've personally benefited from starting a podcast –
I have created relationships with people that I hope will last a lifetime. In the beginning, it was unfamiliar and odd for me, I would get into long, deep, fascinating conversations with people who I literally just met 5 minutes prior. It took me probably 40 or 50 episodes to feel comfortable speaking to people who are public speakers, some for decades. I still can't listen to my first episodes without seriously cringing but I take that as a sign of growth, right?
It helped me become a better speaker, more confident in my abilities
I have been approached by people I look up to asking to appear on my show
I have been able to learn and write an ebook and help other podcasters in their journey
It opened my mind to new ideas
Allowed me to create growth in other areas of my life, both business and personal
I have recently been able to monetize and start profiting off the podcast
If you have an interview format podcast, treat every one of your guests the same, regardless of if they have 2 followers or 2 million followers. The obvious reason being you invited someone into your home, it is incumbent on you to make them feel welcome. The other, more self-serving reason is that the more they like you and enjoy the conversation, the more likely they are to share the episode and recommend their fanbase to check it out. Also The more you connect with your guest, the more comfortable they’ll be, the better the whole episode gets.
Even if you have the gift of gab and are a talented speaker, staying on course, explaining the narrative, peeling layers off of a story until you get to its core is not an easy task. This is why most people go into this endeavor with another person either a co-host or a guest, which is usually more engaging and much less time-intensive. The more prepared you are the better the podcast will go. Write down some questions, even jokes, do the research in advance, be as prepared as possible. You don't want to have a blackout mid-interview and not have notes to save you.
Unlike Tik Tok or other viral platforms, building an audience and a successful podcast an unknown takes time. If you are in it for a few months, don't even start. Know that this is a multi-year endeavor and anything less would be a waste of your time. Sure if you have a large following you can enjoy quick success but the rest of us have to grind it out, and building a following/audience takes time.
There are valid points to back up both arguments. Generally speaking, generalists take more time to build an audience and a recognizable brand that listeners will relate to and trust. Because you are the brand, essentially, when listeners search – they search for you, and not the subject, which takes longer to build. It can take more time to connect and grow that trust.
Long story short, it takes time to build a brand around yourself.
Niche podcasts are also great – their popularity goes against the conventional wisdom of getting a large piece of the pie. The truth of the matter is you actually don’t need to have millions of listeners to be successful – you only need a few thousand dedicated ones, riches in the niches. It is an easier task to build a community around a shared passion, especially if you already have a wealth of knowledge on a topic. The only drawback is you must avoid pigeonholing yourself where you run out of talking points 20 episodes in.
If you are a Karate instructor looking to start a podcast on Karate, your audience is going to be different, from let’s say, a vegan baking podcast. Sketch out who that person is who is listening to you, the more you know your listeners, the better you can communicate to them. Age, gender, hobbies, likes, dislikes – but also things like, are they introverts or extroverts? Are they active or couch potatoes? Do they prefer funny, or serious shows?
Try to build or sketch out a character that is essentially your listener. Once you have that person in mind, it’s going to make it easier, and also more personal for you, to talk to that individual.
When you have distilled it and have concluded who you are speaking to find out where they hang out online. What online communities are they active on? Get engaged in those communities.
The Famous Kevin Kelly essay – A true fan is someone that will drive 200 miles to see you speak or buy every version of your book or follow you on every platform where you create content. The idea is 1000 people pay you $100 a year, which results in $100,000 – which is a nice chunk of change for most people. I would argue that it’s never been easier to do that. It’s never been easier for you as a content creator to connect with your fans. All the barriers that used to exist are dead. Now we have a never-ending open line of communication with anyone in the world.
The podcast is a great complementary platform to whatever it is that you do. Are you a freelance graphic designer? Great, create a podcast around that, interview other graphic designers or freelancers, explain to people its history and origins, why it’s so beautiful, why it’s so important, what the future holds for the art, etc. Build credibility – next time one of your listeners will need the services of a graphic designer, guess who’s name pops into their head?
However, don’t think about monetizing early on. Think “how can I add more benefit/value to my listeners”? Remember you are building trust, and trust takes time. Start out by giving away the information you have for free, build trust, create relationships, solidify yourself as an authority on the matter. Once you reach a level where you feel you have a dedicated audience that regularly tunes in, start monetizing in any way you see fit. A freemium model is your best bet. Offer some free, and some paid, content so you don’t lose your listeners – but monetize the die-hards.
You can obviously structure your podcast in any way you like or have no structure at all, you are the captain of the ship. However I find that listeners respond well to a familiar structure, and it helps you, as the creator, to build the show in stages.
Intro: Start off your intro with a quick explanation of what the show is about, hook them in. Then go into why they should listen, what is the benefit for them? Before you start the episode make sure to ask them to subscribe/follow and leave a review, this is crucial.
Episode: Start topic, don’t do long-form for the sake of being long-form, say what you have to say, or keep the interview alive as long as it is interesting. Finish with a positive.
Outro: This is up to you, some people do, some don’t. Do a short reflection about the conversation you just had. Call to Action, just like you did in the intro, ask your listeners to follow you on social media, subscribe/follow and leave a review. You can also give a short teaser about the next episode that’s about to drop.
Stick to a schedule – If your listeners are used to listening to you every Tuesday morning but then you don’t put anything out for 2 or 3 weeks you could lose them. Be sure to stay consistent. Engage with your listeners if for some reason you are not putting out an episode next week, tell them about it, explain to them why and promise them to come back even better the following week.
I hope this helps someone out there that is either just starting out or thinking about starting a podcast. These are only a handful of the lessons ve learned, if you're interested in learning more you can check out my ebook