I started podcasting back in 2007. I’m from Israel, and back then there weren’t many podcasts around. My podcast was polished and well produced, and so within 2–3 years I gained considerable audience. Yet it took me another five long years before I was able to grow my podcast as a business, quit my day job and become a full time podcaster. These were difficult and challenging five years: a journey that taught me some important lessons. Here’s a bit of podcasting advice.
1. Know Your Audience
Have you ever asked yourself who are your listeners? The people you talk to every week?
That’s not a rhetorical question, but a very practical one. Podcasting is not mass media: it is a niche media which caters for the ‘long tail’ of the Internet. Your relative strength as a podcaster in the advertising market is your intimate relationship with your audience.
TV ads, for example, reach millions of viewers — but these viewers have little in common. Some of them might be interested in product X, while many other have no interest in it what so ever. For an advertiser, this is a disadvantage since some of their ad budget is being wasted on an uninterested audience. You, on the other hand, are in a position to know your audience characteristics intimately. In many cases, the podcaster even shares those characteristics — be it a deep interest in sports, geek culture or (as in my case) a love for science and technology.
So firstly, actively choose the audience you are talking to. Ask yourself who these people are, and aim to address their needs and passions. Don’t just let blind randomness select your audience for you: build your show so that it attracts the specific type of people you wish it to attract. Personally, I have found that real-life, face to face podcast meetups are very effective in this regard: They give the listeners a chance to meet other people who share their passions and interests, and strengthen the bonds within the community. I do a big podcast get-together at least once a year.
Secondly, run periodic polls and surveys and ask your listeners for their cooperation. Find out their ages, income, family status and interest. This (anonymous!) information will help you pitch your show to advertisers — and it will also demonstrate a type of professionalism that might help prove helpful as well. Again, I run such a survey once every two years, and learn a lot from it.
2. Grow First, Monetize Later
The goal of every business, podcasts included, is to be profitable. Making money, however, should not be your first priority — at least in the initial stages of creating a podcast. (See Also: 7 Real World Podcasting Mistakes To Avoid)
For example, I’ve already mentioned that meetups are a great way to strengthen the podcast’s community. Renting a place for a meetup and buying food and drinks can be costly, so audience participation in covering the cost of the event is usually expected. There is, however, a temptation to try and make a small profit from the event. It’s an understandable sentiment: you’ve worked hard in organizing the meetup, and it’s natural to wish for some compensation.
Resist the temptation, and keep ticket prices as low as possible. In my early meetups, I even went as far as saying that entrance to the event is free — and just placed an empty bowl near the entrance with a sign asking for donations to cover the event’s expenses. I managed to cover expanses, and the attendance was great — which ultimately was more important to my podcast’s long-term success than any minor profit I could have made by selling tickets. The takeaway here is that when growing your audience, engagement should trump any short term monetization goals.
Focusing on long term growth rather than short term profit can also influence your spending. Buying new recording equipment, for example, can set you back a few hundreds of dollars — but better audio quality is essential for long term success, and spending the money out of your pocket now rather than waiting for future money to come in is a wise decision.
3. Find the Right Partner
This is perhaps the most important lesson I have learned.
Hosting or producing a great podcast requires skill, no doubt. But being a good host or a great sound engineer says nothing about a person’s business skills — and making money does require skill. I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m not a good businessman. I’m good at podcasting and I can take care of my personal finance reasonably well — but I lack the instincts and insights needed to identify lucrative business opportunities. It took me a long while to admit to that fault — but when I finally did, it was an important step forward: I began looking for a partner who has those qualities.
And ultimately, I found one: Dani, who was actually a long time listener to my podcast. His personal background was in marketing and business development, and so his skills more or less complemented mine. We turned the podcast into a full blown company, worked together to approach advertisers and finally, within two years — at age 40, with 3 kids and a mortgage — I was able to quit my day job and become a full time podcaster. Achievement Unlocked! 😉
This personal lesson, I think, is relevant in more ways than one. I have met many podcasters who are great at hosting their shows but suck at editing, or write well but narrate with the charisma of a brick wall… it takes time and maturity to recognize personal faults — but admitting them is the first step towards success.
- Know your audience, both in terms of general characteristics (age, occupation, etc.) and particular interests. This will appeal to advertisers, and might help you improve your content.
- Grow first, Monetize later. Think long-term, and ignore short term profits if they hinder growth opportunities.
- Find the right partner: the most important advice of them all. Know your weaknesses and look for the right partner who complements your strong skills.
And most importantly: have fun podcasting! 🙂
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