30 Tips to Start Your Podcast the Right Way
Podcasting is the midst of a Renaissance at the moment despite being written-off as a quirky, limited format in the mid-2000s by some. There are now tens of thousands of podcast series in every topic imaginable. It is an extremely competitive space but the rewards of success can be staggering. Podcasting stars such as John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur On Fire reports six-figure incomes per month and there are plenty of others who make a full-time living from their shows.
But it’s hard work and it’s most certainly a marathon, not a sprint. So before you decide to start your own podcast, here are 30 tips to help you get off to the right start and avoid the major pitfalls.
Podcasting Dos and Don’ts
- Be committed or don’t start. Podcasting is a long-term commitment. It requires organisation, planning, production, post-production and promotion. All this takes several hours per show (more if you’re just finding your feet). Week-in, week-out (maybe even daily if that’s your decision). You can spend hundreds – even thousands – of hours trying to get your show off the ground and in the meantime your listening figures may be disheartening. Would you have the determination and perseverance to continue? You’ll need it.
- Five year rule. Podcasting is a labour of love. If your heart’s not in it and you’re just doing it for the money, you’ll give up – guaranteed. Two questions to ask yourself:
– “If I don’t make a penny from this podcast in the next 1-2 years, would I still go ahead and make it?” It may take 1-2 years to make a significant income from your show.
– “Can I see myself making this show for the next 5 years?” If not (at least in principle), podcasting is probably not the way to go.
- Create valuable content. Concentrate on creating podcasts that solve a problem for your listeners. (Of course, there are podcasts that are wholly entertainment-based but we’re interested in marketing and monetising your know-how, so concentrate on creating podcasts that produce practical value).
- Identify 52 interviewees. Identify 52 people you could contact and interview for your show. If you can’t identify 52, your show may struggle. Have at least five recordings ready to go before launching and encourage your listeners to download all five at the same time – that will give your podcast a boost in iTunes’s ranking algorithm.
- Get the basic hardware right. You should be obsessing over content, not hardware. But hardware is important. Here’s a rough-and-ready guide to get you started. (You don’t have to get any particular brand, we just mention some to save you on the research – but feel free to do your own homework):
– a Røde Procaster microphone. We recommend a cardioid mic, not a condenser mic. Cardioids only catches the noise directly in front of the microphone, i.e. your voice, and ignores ambient noise such as passing traffic or the neighbour’s lawn mower. Condenser mics more or less catch 360 degree noise which is not ideal.
– Foam microphone cover t0 prevent “popping” plosives P-sounds (that’s some serious alliteration) and to catch spit (yuck, we know). These covers are cheap and disposable so change them as necessary;
– a XLR to XLR microphone cable. You need this to provide sufficient power to your microphone. A USB port is fine for small desktop microphones but won’t cut it for a production microphone.
– Røde PSA1 studio arm;
– Røde PSM1 shock mount;
– a Scarlett 2i2 USB recording interface. This is basically a glorified sound card and it’s necessary to reduce the latency in your recording. Latency is the time it takes for a sound to be recorded and for it to reach your ears. It can be distracting (like those delayed satellite interviews you see on the news) so it’s important to minimise it.
– headphones to hear your guest.
– a mixer (Mackie or Behringer brand) to give you greater control over your recording (e.g. fade in music; boost up certain sounds whilst lowering others; stopping your guests hearing the distracting delayed echo of their voice etc). A mixer is not strictly necessary but recommended. It will can save you time in post-production and produce a more polished recording.
– a digital recorder (Roland or Zoom). A digital recorder has several advantages: you can record on location (e.g. in a cafe); it acts as a backup recording device in case the recording software on your computer crashes; noise reduction).
The entire setup will cost about $700-900.
- Keep it manageable. You’ll probably be a one-person band when you start. You therefore want to create a podcast that is easy to produce, easy to edit. Keep the program short – 30-45 minutes is ideal. Any longer than this and you could start losing your audience. Have a format you can stick to, e.g. guest bio, five questions/their success strategy, short promo for guest, wrap up. Try to work to a podcast template. Don’t over-edit your show.
- Make your show do extra duty. Create further content from your podcast. Transcribe your show; create infographics; tweet extracts; post a link on Facebook; produce show notes etc. (If you are going to use a show as part of a commercial product, you need the permission of your guest).
- Be consistent. Never miss a program deadline. If you say you’re going to produce a show each week, produce a show each week, no excuses. (You should always have 20 shows lined up, ready to go, in case you fall ill or go on holiday). Stick to a predefined format for your show; use the same theme music; set out your intro and outro in the same way and so on. These may seem trivial but consistency is vital to building a recognisable brand.
- Answer listeners’ questions by name. This is a great way to build loyalty amongst your audience. It shows you care about their problems; demonstrates gratitude and builds community. Your fans will also appreciate being name checked!
- Don’t be a perfectionist. You will make mistakes. Certain shows will not be as good as you would like. Learn from your mistakes and move on. You have better, more important uses for your time. Remember, you’re in it for the long-run. Don’t make every podcast an odious exercise in worrying about minutiae.
- Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Your listeners can spot a fake a mile away. If you’re not naturally funny, don’t try to be; if you’re not naturally extrovert, don’t pretend to be. Often, it takes several shows for you to find your persona and get into your stride and that’s fine. However, don’t be boring or low-energy. You have to exude enthusiasm and care about your topic. If you’re not interested, why should your listeners be?
- It’s about community, not technology. The only reason you should start a podcast is to build a relationship with your community. Everything else – the technology, the stats, trying to find sponsors – is a distant second to creating content that resonates with your audience. Engage with your audience, don’t just treat them as passive listeners – they will love you for it.
- Practice, practice, practice. If you don’t feel comfortable on the mic, you need to practice. Practice talking to a photograph, to a mirror, to your cat. Practice doing an entire podcast from start to finish (you can even provide the interviewee answers) – just clock as much mic experience as possible. Get comfortable with speaking and hearing your voice. Always talk with a smile – it comes through in your voice. Eliminate positive feedback sounds (the encouraging “uh-huhs” and “yes’s” you make when your guest is speaking) – these can be very distracting in an interview. When your guest is speaking, you stay silent. There’s no secret – it’s just hours and hours of practice.
- Prepare great interview questions. Ask the questions your audience are dying to know. Don’t be afraid to ask your guests for their secret strategies and other potentially sensitive information. Most guests will be more than happy to share this information as they know it’s the execution, not the idea, that’s important.
- It’s your show so stay in control. Don’t be afraid to pull guests back on course if they go off on a tangent. A simple, “That’s great stuff. Can I just return to the point you made earlier? One of the things I think would be great for our audience is if you could go into further detail about…”
- Give each show a compelling title. Your show titles should be like sales headlines. They need to capture the attention of your audience, pique their interest and get them to download and listen.
- List benefits in your podcast description. List the benefits of each show, e.g. “in this week’s show discover how John Smith grew an audience of 9,000 in two months with just $200; how he destroyed a patent troll and his advice for those starting from scratch…” Don’t assume your audience will always listen – you need to give them compelling reasons to download your show. A little salesmanship will not go amiss.
- Record in .WAV format then compress to MP3 afterwards. Recording in an uncompressed format like WAV will keep your audio quality high.
- Use a paid podcast hosting company. Your webhosting is not designed to host or serve up podcasts. To enjoy greater performance and reliability, you wil need to use a professional hosting provider such as Libsyn or Soundcloud.
- Create content you would listen to. Have a sign in your studio, “Would I listen to my show?” You need to have the attitude that every show is unmissable. Your listeners must feel that if they don’t download your podcast they’re missing something important, something that can solve their problems. Make your show a must-download.
- As your podcast grows, reach out to the big names in your industry. It’s easier to land big names for your show after you have some credibility under your belt. Use an escalation method – interview guests on a gradually increasing scale of fame. Once you crack your first big-name, the others will follow. But be true to your audience: don’t interview big names for the sake of it; each guest must align with your audience’s interest and podcast mission.
- Team up with events. Approach event organisers in your chosen topic to interview their keynote speakers and share the resulting recordings. Larger events will have this covered but smaller organisers will welcome the approach as it adds value for them. Your podcast benefits from making new contacts; establishing itself as a source of contemporary, useful information and growing your audience base.
- Ask questions your audience want the answers to. No matter how experienced you become, don’t wing it. Know what questions you want to ask your guess and have three reserve questions in case the interview is like pulling teeth (it happens). Think about the questions your audience would ask. Don’t ask the same questions the guest has been asked hundreds of times or – worse – questions whose answers can be easily found online. Try to find ask something different – but still useful to your audience.
- Be conversational. There are two approaches to interviewing guests: (i) you can either stick to a set of predefined questions – which is easy but can result in a stilted interview, or (ii) you can let the interview unfold naturally and dictate the questions you should ask. This results in a more dynamic show but requires more experience as an interviewer to listen well, know what questions are important and where to steer the show. Aim to eventually be the second type of interviewer.
- Have an opening theme tune to your show. A short theme intro boosts your professionalism and helps cement your brand. Don’t use copyright music. There’s plenty of free copyright-free music online you can use or you can pay a few dollars to have a 30 second tune created just for you on Upwork.
- Welcome praise but don’t rely on it. Don’t podcast because you’re expecting positive feedback, thanks or adulation. Those are nice to have but they’re not as important as producing great content. Produce value and your podcast will be loved – whether you hear about it or not.
- Don’t worry about entering a crowded space. There are lots of songs, lots of artists. No one ever says, “I want to make music but someone else is already making music so I’ve missed the boat“. There’s always room for your unique take. Stop worrying if other people are doing what you want to do – do it differently. How? You are the magic ingredient. You are what people will grow to like. Your personality, your show’s vibe, your content – these are the great differentiators. No one can do it like you – it’s your unassailable advantage. Go into a crowded space and carve out a piece by doing it your way.
- Always bring your listeners back to your website. Don’t forget to continually convert listeners to your email list. A good way to do this is to make your show notes available to members-only. Remember, you’re in the list-building business.
- Help your guests. Keep in touch with past guests and help them whenever and wherever you can. Build your network of experts. Guests know other experts and – following the Six Degrees of Separation – they can help you land big-name guests further down the line. Off air, don’t be afraid to ask guests if they can suggest other people you can talk to. This is how you grow your influence and credibility in your industry.
- Start. You can easily postpone taking action for weeks, months, even years. Whilst you’re suffering from analysis paralysis, others are creating content and leaving you behind. Just start, where you are, with what you have. Every brilliant podcast began where you are so get going. You can and will improve but you have to start.
“Your voice is as valid as everyone else’s. Don’t let inner negative voices keep you from starting.”
– Erik Fisher
- Getting started is the hardest part. Believe in your ability to provide value, to be engaging and to entertain your audience. Competition is an illusion – no one can be you/have your personality; no one will produce the exact content as you; no one will have the same roster of guests as you.
- Be in it for the long-run. Expect to grind and push and persevere. If your motivation is purely external (e.g. positive feedback, fan mail, download numbers) – you’re going to give up when all you hear is crickets. Your motivation must be internal. Just because people aren’t patting your back doesn’t mean your show is not liked. Keep going, keep delivering so much value that your listeners can’t ignore you and will tell others about you.
- Treat is as a game. Wherever your show is in the rankings, see if you can climb through the ranks like a professional athlete competing in a league. Make each week better than the last. Do this long enough and one day you will find you’re the one others are looking up to.
- Make a list of five guests you want to interview. What one thing would you like to know from each of them? Invite your guest on your show to discuss that one thing. Your goal is to give your listeners the know-how they need to achieve that one thing themselves.
- Overcome your fear of rejection. An entrepreneur with no prior influence landed some of the most reputable names in his industry for a conference he was planning using a top secret method. He emailed them and asked. Two said they couldn’t do it; two did not reply; twelve said yes. Experts are more helpful and approachable than you realise.
- Build credibility from the start. Build a website for your podcast. Have a professionally designed logo. Invite “low-pressure” guests at first to seed your program. You can find experts to interview at Clarity.fm and you can also approach Kindle authors (they often have their contact details under their profile). Start interviewing those guests and grow from there. Review your performance from each show and find ways to improve each time.