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Many of us have made a long commute more bearable by listening to a podcast or two. Some of us have compensated for the sense of isolation as new parents by consuming manageable podcast chunks during the baby’s naptime. And who hasn’t tried to cut through the boredom – and worry – of waiting to see a doctor by losing themselves in a podcast? Podcasts can be sanity savers, informative, educational, inspiring or just plain fun.
As a result of its versatility, this media form has grown in popularity since its inception in 2005. There are some 2 million active podcasts and more than 48 million episodes produced. Nearly 57% of the U.S. population listens to podcasts. Listeners enjoy an average of eight shows per week, with 40% listening to one to three podcasts per week. And 19% of listeners tune in to at least 11 podcasts per week.
Given podcasts’ ability to build audience engagement, it’s no surprise that business owners, entrepreneurs and marketers want to capitalize on this medium’s popularity. As a podcaster, you can position yourself as an authority in a particular topic or field, which will help you influence clients and customers in ways that encourage them to purchase your products and services, invest in your business, or promote it via word-of-mouth advertising.
And all of this can be done on the cheap because, in most cases, creating a podcast doesn’t require significant startup costs.
Although you may be an expert in your industry, you may not know where to start when creating your podcast. To help you avoid common rookie mistakes, we spoke with experts to get advice and recommendations on getting started.
Did you know? A podcast is one online business idea you can start quickly. Some others are becoming a mobile app developer, social media consultant, web designer or affiliate blogger.
A podcast is an audio series available online. Like a TV or radio show, it’s made up of episodes and seasons. Listeners can subscribe to specific podcasts, download episodes as they become available, and listen to them whenever and wherever it’s convenient. Tuning in to a podcast requires only a smartphone, tablet or computer.
But how, exactly, can you make your own podcast? Here’s some expert advice on how to start.
The first step is deciding on your podcast’s focus. You need to find a happy medium between a topic broad enough that you can explore various aspects and narrow enough to attract an audience with that specific interest.
Don’t try to be everything to everybody, advises Jennifer Moxley, the founder of Sunshine Media Network, whose work includes guiding clients on how to start, improve and be interviewed on podcasts.
“By showcasing quality content targeted to a specific group of people who want that content, you’ll find your voice and start to grow your audience,” she said.
If your industry is underserved in the podcast universe, there are probably listeners out there hungry for information and actively searching for new content. Find a niche market where you can easily and authoritatively speak for long stretches in language that’s informal and engaging.
Did you know? Speaking of niche markets, there are podcasts for Salesforce fanatics dedicated to helping people learn more about this CRM platform.
As part of identifying your topic and audience, you should choose an appealing name.
There are a couple of ways to find the perfect name for your podcast. You can come up with a descriptive title that is self-explanatory. Another option is to create something clever and catchy but ensure it offers a clear connection back to your niche. The name must be instantly recognizable to listeners looking for your topic.
Though tempting, avoid incorporating your name into the title. This only works if you already have tremendous name recognition among your audience.
Tip: For some inspiration on choosing a name for your podcast, check out the top 100 U.S. podcasts.
There are many podcast formats; the most common include solo shows, co-hosted shows and interview shows. Solo shows involve the podcaster speaking directly to the audience. With a co-hosted show, you share the mic with another presenter. In an interview show, you speak with guests, which you can do solo or with a co-host.
“If you’re interviewing guests, two hosts can be a bit cumbersome and also potentially prevent you from digging into interesting information from your guest, because both hosts may want to add commentary,” said Jen Spencer, president of SmartBug Media and host of a weekly podcast, SmartBug on Tap. However, she pointed out that a co-hosted show can work if each presenter plays a specific role.
Regardless of the arrangement you prefer, what matters most is finding a format that lends itself well to exploring your subject matter.
“In the end, it’s about having a message that resonates with your audience, not the number of voices delivering it,” said Mary-Lynn Foster, co-founder of the coaching and e-learning firm BIGG Success and co-host of its podcast.
The most successful podcasts provide targeted content in a conversational, engaging style.
Podcasting is no place for a teleprompter. A short topic outline might prove helpful, but successful podcasters don’t use scripts because they lead to stilted language that doesn’t resonate with listeners. Podcasts that feel like an advertisement or resemble college lectures won’t cut it either.
Be authentic. Talk about what you know, using essentially the same words and tone you normally use when conversing with a close friend. Successful podcasts allow listeners to get to know the podcasters.
“Every person who is new to podcasting needs to understand that the key to being interesting is being interested,” said Jason Klamm, founder and executive producer of StolenDress Entertainment and creator of the Comedy on Vinyl podcast. “Curiosity is everything, even if you’ve got a ton of knowledge on a subject already. Make each show a connection, either with the interviewee or the audience. Eventually, you’ll figure out what the story you actually want to tell is.”
With your style set, you’ll need to put some thought into two additional aspects of your podcast: length and frequency.
Your podcast’s length should be determined by how much you have to say on a topic and the needs of your audience. “We give each episode the freedom to be the length it needs to be,” Foster said.
There are five-minute podcasts that appeal to a certain kind of listener and four-hour podcasts that offer in-depth coverage of a particular issue. Typical podcasts tend to be 20 to 45 minutes, typically the same length as the average commute.
Find what works for you, and don’t be afraid to vary the length when necessary. What you don’t want to do is stretch out material to fit a rigid time frame or, conversely, cram so much information into an episode that it overwhelms listeners.
The podcast’s objective is to connect with listeners and build a community over time. People will invest their time to listen to what you have to say, so make it worth their while.
Key takeaway: A podcast is usually around the same length as a commute, 20 to 45 minutes.
Your content will determine how often you release new episodes. However, if you are trying to build a brand or gain traction with a following, consider recording and issuing an episode each week.
“I wish I’d been told how important keeping a regular release schedule was in maintaining an audience and getting more listeners,” Klamm said. “If I had, the show might have grown a lot faster.”
To avoid feeling overwhelmed and hurriedly producing new episodes, Spencer recommends creating a few episodes before launching. This way, “you don’t feel unreasonably pressured, but you are still able to stick to a regular schedule for your subscribers.”
You don’t need a professional studio with fancy equipment to record a podcast. All that’s required is a laptop or tablet, audio recording and editing software, and a high-quality microphone to record the audio.
“The utmost important factor in a show is sound,” said Tom Scarda, founder and host of The Franchise Academy Podcast. “[Do] not skimp on a good microphone.”
Using a poor-quality mic may result in a lack of audio crispness and clarity that will brand your podcast as amateurish. Look for a USB microphone that plugs into the USB port of your computer. Do not use your computer’s built-in microphone.
There are some basic microphones on the market for less than $100, but if you’re serious about podcasting, you’ll want to budget for a higher-quality model. Many podcasters swear by Blue Yeti USB or Audio-Technica microphones.
Condenser microphones, such as the Blue Snowball iCE, also provide rich sound and are quite popular. Be sure to buy enough microphones in case you have several speakers or guests.
Consider purchasing a pop filter to muffle or reduce the clicking and smacking sounds people make when speaking normally into a microphone.
Ideally, you should record audio in a quiet area away from cars and nature noises. To reduce the time you’ll spend editing each podcast, consider sectioning off the room and adding dense, sound-absorbing materials. Some podcasters record in a closet, where carpeted floors and hanging clothing absorb ambient sounds.
You’ll need audio software to create your podcast. If you own a MacBook or iPad, you are already ahead of the recording and editing game. Apple’s laptops and tablets typically come equipped with GarageBand, a professional-level studio editing application that’s free and easy to use. Learn more about working with GarageBand by watching the GarageBand Podcast Editing and How to Use GarageBand for Podcasting YouTube tutorials.
For PC users, applications like Audacity and Adobe Audition are similar to GarageBand. Audacity is free, and Audition is available for a monthly subscription.
Tip: If all this feels too technical for you, you may want to try Alitu, a podcast-maker tool that helps build episodes by automating the processing, editing and publishing of your show.
If you have remote guests, the best video conference services let you record calls, and the quality is much better than landlines – plus the connections are usually strong.
Beyond the tech tools necessary to record interviews, you’ll need conversational and intuitive skills to elicit information from your guests. As an interviewer, you need to build a rapport with guests that is natural and fluid while still keeping them on topic.
“Interviewers must keep the interview moving forward, [as well as] focused and relatable,” Moxley said. “They should realize when the answers are getting derailed or lengthy and keep [their] ears open for those golden nuggets of information.”
Additionally, interviewers must be ready to challenge or call out a guest’s comments or assertions when necessary. This is uncomfortable for new podcasters, but it’s key if you want to establish long-term credibility.
“Often, a new podcast host is so grateful for an interview, they allow it to be full of fluff,” Moxley said. “If you’re just hosting 30-minute commercials for someone, today’s audience will not participate or trust you.”
With your style and audience defined and your interviews conducted and recorded with high-quality equipment, you’re ready to share your podcast with the world. To do so, you should add the following elements to your podcast.
An intro is a short voice-over, usually accompanied by music, introducing each podcast episode and the host(s) at the show’s beginning. Outros thank listeners and direct them to your website at the end. You can record these yourself or hire a voice-over professional to record them through a service like Music Radio Creative.
Podcast intros and outros add personality and professionalism. They can be creative and fun, but most importantly, they should make a good first impression, reassuring listeners that they made the right choice in selecting your podcast and that you will deliver.
You want music in your intro and outro that suits your show’s personality. However, don’t use copyright-protected music without permission ‒ it’s a severe violation that will get you kicked off iTunes or Spotify.
One of the most extensive libraries of free-to-use music, also known as Creative Commons, is Incompetech. However, because the music on this and similar sites is free, it’s very commonplace and used extensively. If you have some money in your budget, get royalty-free music for a one-time fee at Jamendo. You also can access thousands of music tracks through the monthly subscription service Storyblocks.
Another creative, budget-conscious option is having a local band or musician compose something specifically for your show, or ask if you can use a clip from one of their existing songs. This partnership provides you with original music while offering the artist some exposure.
Your podcast cover art is the first thing listeners see when looking through podcast directories like iTunes or Google Play. Your cover art should be 1400 x 1400 pixels, in JPG or PNG form, and under 500KB to meet iTunes’ specifications.
Podcast artwork is your first opportunity to create a strong visual brand. Your artwork should visually communicate your podcast’s subject, include your logo (if you have one), and use simple fonts and high-quality images. Remember, your listeners will see the image in a much smaller format, so keep it clean and uncomplicated.
Use stock images to create cover art on platforms like Canva or Snappa, or pay for custom art through sites like 99designs, Podcast Designs or Fiverr.
Tip: There are various other presentation tools you can explore and experiment with when creating your podcast cover art.
Once you edit the audio and add images and music for the podcast intro and outro, you’re ready to export the finished podcast to your website and the distribution platforms of your choice.
Many novice podcasters assume that you upload your podcast directly to places like iTunes. However, you need to create an account with a media host, which is a subscription service that stores your audio files. In addition to housing your audio files, a hosting service provides statistics, marketing tools and podcast websites while also serving as a link between you and podcast directories like iTunes.
Libsyn and Buzzsprout tend to be favorites among podcasters, but there are many other hosting services, including Blubrry, Podbean and Transistor.
“They make it easy to upload your audio file, add show notes and get your podcast to the places where people will be listening,” said Joey Held, digital manager at INK Communications and host of the podcasts The Good Stuff and The Noise (with INK) and Parks n Wrecked.
After you have your web hosting squared away, your media host will provide you with an RSS feed, which is basically a URL. This is the feed you’ll submit to platforms like iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, TuneIn and Spotify. You can then publicize your RSS feed to listeners so they can find, download and subscribe to your show.
Make sure your podcast landing page on these platforms includes art that reflects your podcast’s look and feel. Platforms such as iTunes pay attention to details like artwork and podcast description text.
Did you know? Design is a critical marketing tool. Your podcast’s landing page and cover art give prospective listeners their first impression of your show.
To generate buzz on launch day, have several episodes already completed and uploaded. As part of your marketing plan, announce the launch in advance to your business network via email and social media. You want to build an audience before you launch. To improve your chances of being noticed and possibly featured by iTunes, encourage new listeners to subscribe to your podcast and leave reviews.
To get the most out of your podcast, think of ways to repurpose your podcast content on your blog and social media channels. Also, be open and willing to learn about your listeners’ needs by the way they respond to your content. This is especially important if your listeners are current or potential customers.
“We’ve been able to track which episodes are the most popular, and have used those insights to inform marketing campaigns,” Spencer said. “For example, one of my latest podcast episodes on SEO basics is pacing well ahead of any other episode. This data helps validate the need for our company to create more educational content on this topic, because clearly our audience is hungry for it.”
Tip: Podcasts can be a call-to-action tool. For example, pull a tip from your podcast and post it on social media, which will prompt readers to listen to that podcast episode.
Though podcasting may be intimidating, there are support systems to help newcomers succeed.
“The best thing for every newbie to know about starting a podcast is that other podcasters want to help you,” Foster said. “Podcasters are some of the most giving people, who freely offer tips and encouragement.”
A host of online podcast communities can answer your questions and provide support. Here are just a few:
If you still don’t know if it’s worth your time to create a podcast, consider the many benefits of talking directly to current and potential customers and clients.
Podcasting allows you to build a relationship with your audience, opening doors to new opportunities.
“Whether you’re hosting your own [show] or appearing as a guest on another show, you’re connecting with someone in your industry or field, which can lead to additional work and collaboration down the line,” Held said.
Podcasting gives you access to movers and shakers in your field in a way few other experiences can.
“My podcast gives me credibility with my clients … and allows me to contact people who are otherwise out of reach to request an interview,” Scarda said.
Perhaps most importantly, podcasting helps establish you as an expert in your chosen area or field because of your efforts to delve deeper into relevant issues during your show. You can become a trusted voice and thought leader whom others come to for insight and advice. Your brand will grow as you connect with listeners – similar to customer engagement – and provide them with the information they need most.
“Podcasts can elevate your level of expertise in a field, which you can leverage for your own exposure,” Moxley said. “Podcasts can make you relevant; they’re a reason for someone to talk about you, share your social media content, invite you to guest panels, or highlight you in your community.”
Max Freedman and Pamela Oldham contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.